Council Presses for Speedy Replacement of Emergency Communication System

Council Presses for Speedy Replacement of Emergency Communication System

Letter turns up heat on county executive to improve tower network after governor's rebuke over delays

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Photo via Pete Piringer

All nine members of the Montgomery County Council signed a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich Friday afternoon urging him to replace Montgomery’s aging emergency communication system by fall 2020.

In the letter, council members asked Elrich to “act with the greatest urgency possible” to replace the system after several failures over the past six weeks have forced first responders to use cellphones to communicate because radio channels were not available.

At a council committee meeting this week, police and county officials outlined back-up plans if the system experienced a “total failure,” which included using walkie-talkie-like cellphone apps.

Elrich last year directed state and county leaders to reconsider two sites that had been approved as part of a long-planned replacement of the system, which is expected to delay the buildout by at least one year.

The county executive has also suggested taking the new system live with 20 of the 22 proposed sites in December 2020.

County officials argue the 20-site system would not provide “95/95” coverage, meaning 95% of the county would be covered 95% of the time, which is industry standard.

Information about the coverage area of the 20-site system was expected to be distributed to council members from Elrich’s office Friday, but as of 4:30 p.m., council members said they had not received that information.

“We fear that the result of these decisions will produce a more costly, less capable, and further delayed radio system,” the council letter says. “That is unacceptable.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this week also criticized Elrich’s decision to delay implementation of the new system, calling it “inexplicable” and a “public safety emergency.”

In a statement, Elrich said consideration of alternate sites for the two towers “in no way jeopardizes the public safety system today.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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