HARRISBURG – The Senate Communications and Technology Committee held a joint informational hearing with the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee Wednesday to determine the status of the implementation and deployment of Pennsylvania’s statewide radio system and examine how the radio’s system’s infrastructure can be leveraged in a statewide emergency.
In an effort that began during the Ridge Administration, Pennsylvania’s statewide emergency radio system now extends over 91 percent of the Commonwealth’s 45,000 square miles, according to Charles Brennan, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Public Safety Radio Services.
The Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network (PA STARNET) development began in 1996 to replace incompatible, aging radio systems with a single centrally managed statewide system supporting both voice and data communications. As planning, design and deployment evolved, especially following the attacks on September 11, 2001, the scope of the system expanded significantly to include interoperable communications with county and local emergency responders. While not provided for in the original contract, the system will now provide roadway coverage as well as coverage to high density population locations including schools, hospitals, nuclear power plants, tunnels, and some stadiums.
Currently, seventeen state agencies use PA STARNet or are in some stage of planning for its use. The system supports 15,000 subscribers and more than 111,000 transmissions daily. Interoperable communications are also provided to designated businesses and county and municipal public safety organizations, as well as Pennsylvania’s regional Counter-Terrorism Task Forces.
While acknowledging measurable progress since the last oversight hearing in 2005, there was bi-partisan agreement from committee members that the Administration needs to press forward with urgency to realize the infrastructure build-out and deployment.
“I’m pleased to see that substantial progress has been made to implement a statewide communications system. In a post 9/11 world, it is imperative that Pennsylvania’s emergency responders be able to communicate statewide at a moment’s notice. The implementation of a statewide radio system has required substantial time and resources on behalf of the Commonwealth. We must ensure that this system is up and running without further delay,” said Communications and Technology Chairman Senator Rob Wonderling.
“While there have been many serious challenges, the testimony given Wednesday demonstrates that the Commonwealth is making real progress in implementing this critical public safety system. Our committees will be following up with additional questions and we will continue to provide oversight of the project very closely in the coming months. It is essential to providing much needed improvement in the way we respond to emergency situations and its implementation will ultimately save lives,” said Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee Chair Senator Lisa Baker.
According to the Office of Public Safety Radio Services, the target completion of PA STARNET infrastructure is the end of 2008.
Liz Ferry, Office of Senator Wonderling
Lee Ann Labecki, Office of Senator Baker