As part of the Southern Alleghenies 911 Cooperative, Huntingdon County 911 officials, as well as officials from all member counties, were on hand in Somerset County to kick off an initiative to interconnect all member counties via a fiberoptic network Monday morning.
The member counties of the cooperative include Huntingdon, Bedford, Fulton, Blair, Cambria, Centre and Somerset counties. Huntingdon County was represented by 911 director Chris Stevens, 911 coordinator Dave Dick and dispatcher Shaun Magill at the press conference Monday.
This $2.5 million project will be fully paid for through monies from the state Emergency Management Agency as part of the $1.65 911 surcharge that all customers pay each month, and no local tax dollars from any of the seven counties will be going toward this fiberoptic network.
Gerald Walker, Somerset County Commissioner, said the connectivity of the 911 centers in the cooperative will allow the centers to share more critical information and redirect calls if they’re dropped.
“There are many emergencies throughout our region, and to stay prepared for these emergencies, we’re always looking on how to better prepare our 911 centers,” said Walker. “This will go a long way to helping us do that.”
Somerset County Emergency Management Director Joel Landis said this is a great day in public safety communications.
“This will not only strengthen our emergency information systems, but launches us into the future,” said Landis. “The meshing of our information systems together is imperative to the quality of service we provide the public we serve.
“This project will enhance our current capabilities, provide cost savings and solidify the ways as to how counties provide emergency services,” he added.
Sid McConahy, of Mission Critical Partners of State College, the consulting firm working with all the counties on this project, gave an overview of the project.
“All seven of these counties will be connected,” he said. “We’ll be taking existing technology and enhancing it. This not only helps some of today’s problems of misdirected phone calls, as 80 percent of calls to the 911 centers are wireless calls, and they don’t follow the traditional county boundaries. This network will allow that to occur almost seamlessly, and it will allow other technology sharing to occur, so they can shorten response time to get emergency services to people as quickly as possible.”
McConahy also explained with the fiberoptic connectivity, it will set up the region for what is call next generation 911.
“It won’t follow the traditional landline telephone systems, and it will allow to get the location data of a call sooner rather than later,” he said. “This network will enhance that.”
Mark Taylor, Blair County 911 director and one of the ones who spearheaded the 911 cooperative, gave a bit of the history of the cooperative and how they got to this point.
“In 2014, a fair amount of panic set in, and how are we going to survive if our centers go down,” he said. “We looked at the costs of trying to make the improvements, so my colleagues from Huntingdon, Bedford and Fulton got together and we started thinking about how we can work better together.
“Since then, we’ve grown together,” Taylor added. “One of my biggest things has been redundancy, and what happens if our 911 center goes down, who is going to handle our calls? How will we survive. Those questions are getting rectified with the programs we’ve done over the years. We keep making progress with the first four counties, but we’re now up to the seven counties.”
David Cubbison, Bedford County EMA director, said it’s important to put politics aside for the greater good of serving people, and this cooperative and the fiberoptic initiative are doing just that.
“It’s not just seven 911 coordinators or seven EMAs, or seven directors, there’s a lot more that goes into this,” he said. “You have a total of 21 commissioners who have to come together and have to agree upon moving forward with this. That’s a big deal. Political boundaries are dropped, and what is lifted up is the public safety of the constituents of the people they serve and we serve. These men and women all came together and they agreed, and they continue to agree that life safety, property preservation and getting the job done is the priority.
“I’m humbled to be in the presence of these people who are taking it and making it their priority,” Cubbison added.
Scott Neff from Zito Media of Coudersport, the fiber provider for the project, said he’s pleased to be a part of the project.
“We pride ourselves on being a rural communications provider and thinking outside of the box,” said Neff. “In working with these counties and trying to get these fiber systems in place and building the highways of the future is something we take great pride in. We’re confident the fiber communications that will be built for these 911 centers is not only taking care of people, but laying the groundwork for tying in to state networks and will benefit businesses in these communities.”