In eastern Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia lies Chester County, one of the most populous and fastest growing areas in the Commonwealth. Public safety officials in Chester County sought to address an urgent need for this fast-growing community: improved communications to support fire, police and emergency medical services in multiple departments across the entire County.

The County’s public safety radio system was outdated, offered limited capabilities, and was increasingly costly to maintain. Worse, the analog radio system was often unreliable, leaving first responders without radio coverage in different locations. It was time for Chester County to make the switch to a new digital system.

They chose Harris Corporation as their technology partner for this important project.

The Transition: Updating an outdated communication system plagued with problems

Bobby Kagel, Director of Emergency Services for Chester County, explained how the previous system was plagued with coverage issues. “When a police officer, a firefighter, an EMT or paramedic needed help, six out of 10 times it would work,” said Kagel. “From a public safety perspective, those other four times were just simply unacceptable for the radio not to work.”

Starting in 2013, Chester County officials and the Harris team began to address the coverage issues that crippled the previous analog communication system.

The new Harris P25 Phase 2 system includes operational features that were defined by a team of experts, led by the County, and joined by first responders, municipal government leaders and a project manager/engineer. Every critical decision was made with input from the men and women who now rely on the new system. Some of the new system’s critical features selected by the County’s team include guaranteed improved on-street and in-building coverage, high audio quality, consistent system availability and reliability, modern diagnostic and maintenance features, a dedicated emergency communications feature, encryption for a selected subset of law enforcement radios, pre-planned expandability and modernization and interoperability to meet operational requirements.

Jim McGowan, Downington Retired Police Chief, said it best: “No matter what type of call it is, no matter what type of emergency it is — having a reliable communications system is a baseline for any executive in public safety.”

The Results: A well-connected family

Change can be difficult, but the new communication system quickly won over the public safety officials and first responders in Chester County.

Keith Johnson, President of Chester County EMS Council Incorporated, stressed that the critical feature of the new system is the reliability it provides to all first responders. “The last thing we need to do when confronting an emergency is have to worry about the equipment we’re using. We can rely on this new equipment and we can feel good that we know when we use it, it’s going to work,” said Johnson.

As a County that prides itself on its sense of community and family values, Bobby Kagel commended Harris for its partnership throughout the project. “It’s important to us when selecting a vendor that the vendor becomes part of our family here in the Department of Emergency Services and our larger emergency service community, and Harris did that,” said Kagel. “We have a fantastic relationship, it’s a long-term relationship, and Harris is truly part of our family.”