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.