New York Gov. Kathy Hochul this week announced the state is releasing $62.5 million to help counties upgrade the wireless technology that first responders and public safety officials use to communicate.
The funding, which comes through a state grant program, accelerates upgrades of outdated technology that are funded by surcharges tacked onto the bills of phone customers. But as with many states, those 911 fees are dumped into New York’s general coffers and don’t immediately or entirely wind up funding emergency systems, a spokesperson from the New York State Association of Counties told StateScoop.
The Statewide Interoperable Communications Targeted Grant Program — one of three grant programs the state uses to fund emergency communications systems — totals $20 million annually, which means this funding had been withheld for three years, said Ryan Gregoire, the association’s legislative director.
“All of this equipment is extremely expensive and depending on the equipment, it gets out of date very quickly,” Gregoire said. “There are systems around the state that desperately need this money to upgrade whatever that equipment looks like.”
Hochul’s office said grants of up to $6 million each will be awarded to counties that have “insufficient coverage or insufficient infrastructure on national interoperability channels.” Interoperability — making varying technologies communicate with each other seamlessly — is a major challenge for emergency services agencies and one of the motivating factors for the current nationwide upgrade to next-generation 911.
Stephen Acquario, executive director of the NYSAC, said in the state’s press release that the funding is a “major step forward for counties.”
“[This] comes at a critical time for local public safety and emergency management systems that are in urgent need of upgrades,” Acquario said.
According to the announcement, the funding can be used to fund such “lifesaving but costly” improvements as new mobile radios for responders, additional wireless towers and new equipment for communications centers that enables jurisdictions to communicate with each other.
“When our firefighters, police officers, EMTs and paramedics respond to a crisis, they need a communications structure that allows them to communicate and coordinate effectively and efficiently,” Hochul said in the press release.