An open letter to the York County Commis-
On July 12, 2011, Shanan Poe, chief of the Winterstown-North Hopewell Fire Co., stood before the members of Winterstown Borough Council and interested citizens and described the problems his firefighters encountered while trying to fight a house fire recently on Arbor Drive in North Hopewell Township.
Communication was lost between York County's emergency 911 center and his units. He promised to pursue the matter with county emergency officials.
A month later, on Aug. 9, 2011, Chief Poe again stood before the borough council to update his report. He related how radio technicians from the county emergency center came down and used various instruments and radios and confirmed that there was a dead spot for radio communications around the area. However, he was told it would be too expensive to build another tower, which probably wouldn't solve all the dead spots in the area anyway, and that he should have his crews switch their radios to "talk-around channels," more commonly referred to as TAC channels, to "solve" it.
That still isolates the crews from a lifeline with county's 911 center. They want us to use these radios, that cost thousands of dollars, the same way we would if we went to Wal Mart and bought sets of walkie-talkie radios at $19.95, the chief says.
This isn't the only dead spot for Winterstown and North Hopewell Township that the fire department already knows about. A stretch of Swamp Road near the York Township line, much of Spring Valley County Park, and the Blymire Hollow Road areas were also known dead spots.
Chief Poe asked for help bringing these problems to the attention of the county commissioners, because the county's emergency management bureaucracy keeps writing these spots off as isolated incidents.
So, it is time to officially complain, as a voter and as a citizen who lives in the affected areas, to you. But before doing so, I wanted to make sure Chief Poe's complaints could be corroborated by other first responders and not be considered by you as just his opinion.
I contacted members of law enforcement and the park service, which have park rangers who patrol county park areas. What I have found is chilling. Before going farther, I want you to remember that M/A Com, when making their proposal to you in 2005 and 2006, promised that 95 percent of the county would be covered, as measured by portable radios -- not mobile units (in cars) -- with shoulder-high antennas. This is critical, because a lot of emergency communication is made by portable units after first responders exit vehicles.
In just checking about North Hopewell Township with the various agencies, I found that the Swamp Road area toward Dunkard Valley Road, Arbor Drive area and nearly all the valley of that area, Spring Valley Park, and the Blymire Hollow Road area were indeed dead and confirmed by all three groups of first responders. In fact, radio communication with the portable units in all park areas covered by the county's park rangers is "in trouble" except for Rocky Ridge County Park and John C. Rudy County Park.
Areas around Cross Roads, toward Brogue and other areas south of Red Lion are also in trouble. They are not in North Hopewell Township, but adjacent.
We now have a new system that cost at least $33.5 million in taxpayer money that is even worse than the original analog radio system it replaced. Even sadder is that the coverage and tower plan of M/A-Com and the county's communications consultants are the problem. A different coverage setup was proposed by Motorola at the time of contract proposals at a cheaper price and was ignored by the county.
You even authorized another $1 million of taxpayers' hard-earned money to construct two more antenna locations just to solve multiple dead spot problems in Hanover after firefighters couldn't talk to one another at a house fire shortly after the new system went into operation. That house fire, incidentally, involved one of my own daughters. The Hanover fire chief told me during that event that he was tempted to take the new radio in his hands and throw it out on the street because it was worthless. We're not talking about a rural valley area. This was downtown Hanover.
While the county emergency management technicians continue treating these dead spot reports as individual incidents, I believe that if all the dead spots being experienced by our first responders are put together, you will easily find that the radio system is not covering 95 percent of the county's territory, which violates the original contract between M/A-Com (now Harris Corp.) and the county.
You should take steps to have an independent group -- not you, not Harris and not the county's emergency management officials -- investigate it. Once verified, you should sue for breach of contract, and Harris should be forced to add whatever antenna locations or base units would be needed to cover these dead spots -- at their own expense.
Not one more tax dollar should be spent to "improve" this system, which was flawed and over-rated by the contractor.
In 2009, you as commissioners said publicly you would work to "get it right" in regard to getting the county radio system straightened out -- which was your response to a survey of police and fire officials that showed the system was a failure.
When are you going to get it right? How much longer are we going to be playing Russian roulette with the safety of not only first responders but citizens?