MORRIS COUNTY, NJ – The Morris County Board of Freeholders approved a $26 million contract Wednesday night to upgrade and double the operating capacity of the emergency radio network and infrastructure relied upon daily by Morris County law enforcement, emergency management, and municipal first responders.
Extensive upgrades, improvements and even the relocation of some of the system’s infrastructure at 13 supporting sites are outlined under the contract approved with Motorola Solution, Inc., which also includes the addition of one new tower and supporting facilities to close coverage gaps. The project is similar to others undertaken in New Jersey and around the nation because a provision in a 2012 federal tax law required first responders and law enforcement in 11 major metropolitan areas to switch to a different wireless spectrum being set aside for a nationwide public-safety broadband network.
“This is the radio system used each and every day by Morris County first responders and most municipalities within the county. The upgrade that will be implemented over the coming year not only brings us in line with federal requirements, but also will improve the communications capabilities among everyone relying on the network and eliminate coverage gaps that previously existed in some parts of the county,” said Freeholder Douglas Cabana, the board’s Law and Public Safety liaison.
The project was made necessary by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. It included a provision directing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reallocate usage of the T-Band wireless spectrum – the radio spectrum currently used by emergency and law enforcement agencies in 11 metropolitan areas, including the New Jersey-New York region, the nation’s most densely populated area.
The provision required the FCC to establish a competitive bidding process allowing licenses for use of the T-Band spectrum to be publicly sold for private use.
The T-Band spectrum has provided frequencies for public safety communications in heavily populated areas where spectrum demand is greatest, allowing for interoperability among multiple first responder agencies. The federal plan is to set aside a 700 MHz spectrum for its nationwide public-safety broadband network.
Morris County has already been experiencing occasional interference on the T-band spectrum since the FCC licensed a Virginia television station several years ago to use the same spectrum. While not a regular problem, there are times during the year when the television station knocks first responders off the air.
The Morris County project includes replacing 4,700 radios on the current T-band system at no cost to the municipal first responder agencies currently contracted with the county. The entire system will be able to handle twice the capacity as the current system, meaning twice as many users can communicate on the system at the same time.
The plan also allows for a gradual transition to the new system, with all public safety radios being dual band and able to operate on both the new and old systems until the upgrade is complete. Ultimately, interoperability with other first responder agencies in the New Jersey and New York region will also be greatly improved.
Maintaining and regularly improving interoperability among regional first responder agencies has been a major priority in the nation since the terror attacks of 9/11. A severe lack of interoperability was cited in the northeastern region of the U.S., including Morris County, by U.S. Homeland Security reports subsequent to the attacks. A common theme in assessments made of first responder communications had been that more than 1,000 public safety agencies, with over 1,000 separate radio systems existed in the region, but had very limited ability to communicate across jurisdictions and disciplines when needed.