News Briefs • Burlington County, NJ • CivicEngage

Burlington County is seeking federal funding to make further improvements to its emergency communications system.

County commissioners voted Wednesday to authorize the Burlington County Department of Information Technology to prepare and submit an application for the New Jersey FY23 Next Generation 911 Grants Program. The program is open to counties and municipalities in New Jersey with a population of at least 65,000 and provides funding for upgrades to improve 911 communications systems.

A total of $10 million was allocated to the grants in the New Jersey state budget for FY2023.

“Public safety is a top priority for our board, and we know that emergency communications are essential,” said Allison Eckel, Burlington County Commissioner, Department of Public Safety liaison. “Our county recently completed a major upgrade to our emergency communications system, but we continue to seek further improvements to ensure county first responders have the best communications possible. This stream of government funding offers some long-awaited assistance.”

Burlington County is one of the few counties in New Jersey that offers all 40 of its counties an emergency 911 service without charging a tax or fee for the service. Last year, Central Communications processed more than 1.3 million phone calls and handled nearly 700,000 incidents, including 605,830 police incidents, 31,347 fire incidents and 61,045 medical emergencies.

The recent overhaul of the county’s emergency communications system saw all of the county’s emergency radio frequencies shifted from the 500-megahertz band to the 700-MHz band. The change prevents interference from digitally broadcast TV channels and allows signals to easily penetrate buildings and walls. It also helps ensure first responders can communicate clearly throughout the county and from almost any building.

As part of this systems update, the county’s Central Communications Dispatch Center in Westampton was completely redesigned and refurbished and new computers, radios and workstations were installed to improve the efficiency and convenience of dispatchers tasked with handling emergency calls and the Communications are tasked with police, firefighters, emergency responders and other first responders. A smaller shipping center was installed at the county’s engineering offices in Mount Laurel and used during the renovations. It now serves as a fully operational backup dispatch center in the event of problems at Westampton headquarters or a major disaster requiring additional dispatching staff.

To ensure that all first responders were properly equipped to communicate under the new system, the commissioners purchased new handheld and vehicle radios for all police, fire and emergency services in the county at no cost or expense to any of those agencies.

The county purchased the radios under a bulk purchase agreement with Motorola and achieved significant savings over what cities and independent fire and rescue services would likely have paid to outfit their personnel and vehicles alone.

“Emergency communications is a critical public safety function and the ultimate shared service for property taxpayers,” Eckel said. “Upgrading our system and purchasing these radios has been good for public safety and resulted in direct property tax breaks for our communities and residents. We now want to make further improvements, so we are grateful that New Jersey has provided funds to support this important county service. We also want to thank the New Jersey Association of Counties for advocating this important funding stream and our state legislators for supporting this year’s budget.”