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April 15, 2013

911 network problems blamed on design flaw

Water seeping into radio transmitters, troubleshooters find

— Cambria County spent months trying to troubleshoot why its 911 communications network weakened every time a heavy storm rolled in.

Turns out, all officials had to do was shake their radio transmitters, Technology Director Steve Ettien said.

A design flaw in the 5-year-old microwave radios was allowing water to seep into the devices, causing problems at a time the system is often at its busiest, Ettien said.

“We had one taken down ... and we poured nearly a cup of water out of it,” Ettien said, adding “you could hear the water” inside. “It was amazing they were able to operate at all.”

The problem is now being fixed, Cambria officials said.

Tel Aviv-based Ceragon, the company that services the radios on Cambria’s communications tower network, is replacing all 18 receivers in the system, President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said.  The company is picking up the $120,000 tab because of the design flaw, which has since been corrected in newer radios, he added.

“The radios are already being replaced,” said Ettien, who said the county is already seeing a noticeable difference in network performance.

He said 10 already have been replaced and the rest will follow between now and late May, weather-permitting.

The network includes 17 core towers, plus two others designated for a separate rural broadband initiative.

Cambria built the wireless 911 communications system in 2008 at a time it was under a federal mandate to switch wireless frequencies.

The 911 upgrades cost the county $10 million to implement, commissioners said at the time.

But county officials also have said the system has enabled them to save costs in other areas – including $327,000 this year, Lengenfelder said Monday.

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