Fayette County is a suburban county south of Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania. It borders the states of Maryland and West Virginia, with neighboring counties of Somerset, Greene, Westmoreland, and Washington in Pennsylvania. Fayette County has a population of roughly 150,000 and a service area of 803 square miles. There are 42 municipalities, including two third-class cities, and demographics representing everything from rural to urban. Besides the 20 municipal police departments, the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) provides dispatch services to two state park police agencies, two national parks, and a number of school districts, as well as a hospital-based police department.
Fayette County EMA is responsible for operation of the county 911 Communications Center and the Hazardous Materials Response Team (Team 900), and also assists the facilities that store and use hazardous materials within Fayette County in preparing and exercising their emergency response plans. In the event of a chemical release from any of our facilities, these plans detail facilities and neighborhoods at risk, evacuation routes, and shelter locations.
Presently, all public safety entities in Fayette County are utilizing the Fayette County trunked analog 800 MHz radio (voice only) system. Made operational in January 1996, the EMA presently has over 2,600 subscriber units using the system. Interoperability between all users was a major concern when the system was first deployed. In the 14 years since its inception, numerous situations have occurred that were supported by the EMA systems’ efficient interoperable design. With the recent requirements for P25 compliance, the EMA has undertaken a project at a cost in the range of $12 million ($1 million provided through the COPS Technology Program) to update and improve the current system to a digital 800MHz system that will handle voice and data communications. Achieving P25 compliance and upgrading the system is now more critical than ever because every event that has an impact on the public requires a communication system that will support communications interoperability between agencies.
Once completed, the new system will support data and voice, and will provide a gateway to the neighboring Westmoreland County P25 system for enhanced mutual aid capabilities. It will provide a digital platform that will enable a much more efficient and secure exchange of data for law enforcement, and it will enable state agencies working on different platforms to communicate with local responders in the field.
For an example of the need for interoperable communication, in 1996 just a few weeks after turning our radio system on, Fayette County was hit with a severe ice storm. With our new radio system there was total communications interoperability between our public safety, police, fire, and EMS providers and our public works and local elected officials to effectively manage the huge task of opening our rural roads so that power could be restored.
When the new system is operational, the digital data exchange we will acquire will enhance crisis management even more. Digital mapping can then be used and transmitted as needed to responders to convey road closures, power outages, and emergency shelter locations.
Emergency management is as vital a community policing strategy as any, in that, through efficient emergency management operations—using state-of-the-art technology—emergency management agencies have a greater capacity for assisting the minimization of criminal activities. Criminal acts overlap municipal boundaries constantly and the ability for all of our law enforcement agencies—local and state—to communicate is critical because they assist each other in various situations. In crisis situations—whether they be life threatening or not—reliable interoperable communications are an absolute necessity.
9-1-1 Coordinator/Assistant EMA Director
Fayette County (PA) Emergency Management Agency
COPS Conference 2011 | Private Security Partnerships Resource | Chief’s Perspective of Policing Indian Country | American Medicine Chest Challenge | National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention | Emergency Management and CP