Still out of range: Northumberland County hopes 3 new towers will boost signal, fix 911 woes

A communication tower near Fidler Green Road in Coal Township.

The Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network (PA-STARNet) is the Commonwealth’s closed wireless voice and data network for local, state, and federal public safety entities.

"Since July 1, 2012, it has been the responsibility of the Pennsylvania State Police to develop, operate, regulate, manage, maintain, and monitor the Statewide Radio Network," said state police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski. "Twenty-one state agencies rely on PA-STARNet for communications. In 2017, PSP began to phase out the unreliable and issue-plagued OpenSky radio system in favor of an open radio technology called P25. The P25 radio system is an industry standard and will ensure first responders can seamlessly communicate with other agencies."

One of the main benefits of the P25 system is the fact that it is non-proprietary, which means that local entities (police departments, county 911 centers, etc.) can purchase radios and equipment at lower prices on the open market, said Tarkowski.

"Each county can decide to join the Commonwealth’s radio network, but regardless, the ability to be interoperable between first responders is finally a reality," he said. "There are several counties (Montour, Columbia, Warren and Mifflin) that have opted to join the Commonwealth’s radio network and these local governments will realize reduced costs, improved access and increased capacity."

The P25 radio system has been deployed in 35 counties in Pennsylvania. Troop M, Bethlehem, will be operational with the new P25 radio system at the end of June. Statewide deployment will continue toward northeastern Pennsylvania and then west along the northern tier. PA-STARNet will go live in Troop F, which includes Northumberland County, in early fall 2020, said Tarkowski.

This project is anticipated to be completed in June 2021, he said.

Northumberland County 911 Coordinator Russ Fellman said the county can work in conjunction with the state, but at "additional costs."

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