Switching Luzerne County 911 Radios to Digital Begins Tuesday

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WILKES-BARRE -- Luzerne County announced Monday that changes are coming to improve the response to emergencies.

The last time Luzerne County 911 updated the system was about 20 years ago. That doesn't seem like too long of a time, but think about how much cell phones have improved since then with service and reliability. The county wants to make similar improvements to its emergency radios.

There are some spots in Luzerne County where the analog radio system for first responders may not work, like Ricketts Glen State Park.

“You might have a really high mountain but a really low valley, but if you don't have a tower really close to that, then the signal can't get out to that, then you have no coverage,” said Michael McGrady, CEO of M.C.M. Consulting Group.

He's working with the county to eliminate most of those zones by switching the radio communications system from analog to digital.

"It would be like do you recall working on your first analog phone in the '80s, versus your iPhone 6 today? That's the difference in technology,” he said.

But the switch has a big price tag. Luzerne County already has the nearly $1 million to cover the cost of the first phase of the project, which begins this week. But the second phase is $19 million, and the county doesn't yet have a plan to fund it.

“Where's it going to come from? Most municipalities are strapped for cash and don't want to raise taxes,” said Hughestown Police Chief Jeff Balut.

Still, authorities call the proposed new digital radio system an investment that should lower response times and improve safety.

"It's going to give us a better communication system that works for all of the law enforcement and fire and EMS in the area,” Balut said.

County leaders are looking to fund the rest of the project through grants or possibly raising taxes, but officials have several years to find that $19 million. The goal is to have emergency responders throughout the county switched to the digital system by 2020.


  • Nedinu

    Digital isn’t going to give you better coverage at Ricketts Glen.

    If anything it would be worse if you only used existing repeater sites as digital suffers from a cliff effect.

    And the departments working in that area, why not have their radios equipped to be dispatched through Columbia or Sullivan County? Ricketts Glen straddles the borders of these 3 counties, it’s barely in Luzerne.

    What is really so wrong with the current system? Can’t add another repeater or 2? Can’t include DTMF controlled patches? Why does a replacement have to be digital? What would be wrong with an analog trunked system? Has that option been considered? What band(s) is/are to be used? 150mhz, 450mhz, 800mhz?

    Why not wait until the state rolls out their new P25 system, see what they do? Wait until then to find out if the county system can be integrated.

    What about the scanners, pagers, and 2 ways that responders have had to buy for themselves because they were not provided good functioning radios in the past? Are they going to be given multiple new radios to replace these? Are they going to get repairs when they need them?
    Are tow truck operators going to get new recievers?

    What digital format is to be used? P25 Phase 1, Phase 2? DMR, what tier? NXDN? Trunked, not trunked?

    What about interops with neighboring counties?

    Are chiefs in neighboring towns in other counties going to get compatible radios for their command cars?

    What about the State Police, Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission, and DCNR, going to supply them radios too?

    The Avoca airport FD, do they get new radios also?

  • Joseph

    After this change, your analog scanner will receive nothing. The PA State Police also switched to digital a few years back also. I wish the first responders all the luck they can find with their new “digital” radios. With all the money being spent on this system, WNEP should do a follow-up in 6 months or so to see how the new system is working.

    • Mark

      As someone who works in the LMR industry, I will say you are partially correct. The State Police, along with several other agencies DID switch to a proprietary OpenSky (OpenScam) system. Almost every other area who used it ditched it because it would never work correctly. Just google how many hundreds of millions of dollars PA’s system was over budget. With that being said, Luzerne County is most likely going to be P25 digital, which is an open standard for digital communications and required by FEMA and big brother when using grant money for the upgrades. I should say the equipment has to be P25 “capable”. If you have a P25 scanner, you’ll still be able to listen to everything going on, as long as the users aren’t using encryption. That’s a whole other story. I’m curious to see how local fire departments react when they find out they are possibly going to have to spend over $1200 for a portable radio!

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