Council Pressures Elrich on Radio System

    Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) must act with more urgency in seeking a replacement for the county’s outdated public safety radio system, members of the County Council said in a letter on Friday.

    The letter, signed by all nine members of the panel, noted that the system police officers, firefighters and paramedics use to communicate when down for a prolonged period during the second weekend in May, a failure that led to “first responders being unable to send or receive messages in real time,” council members said.

    Before Elrich took office, Montgomery County officials were working on a 22-tower replacement system that was expected to be in place by the fall of 2020.

    Faced with community opposition in Olney and Bretton Woods, Elrich agreed to seek alternative locations for the towers that were to be sited in those communities, a move the panel said could delay the project and make it more expensive.

    Noting that the industry standard for public safety radio systems is “95/95” — that it cover 95 percent of the county and be available 95 percent of time — lawmakers took Elrich to task for his willingness to delay the new system.

    “County officials representing your administration indicated that the interim 20-site configuration you are recommending would likely not meet the 95/95 standard,” they wrote. 

    “We fear that the result of these decisions will produce a more costly, less capable, and further delayed radio system. That is unacceptable. We ask you to deliver a replacement public safety radio system that meets the 95/95 standard by Fall 2020.”

    Late last week, after Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) joined public safety unions and other critics of Elrich’s actions, the executive defended his handling of the matter in a statement and he pledged to have the new system ready by next year. 

    “Every action that I have taken to improve the public safety communication system over the last few months has been done with a sense of urgency and concern for public safety,” he wrote. 

    “The consideration of alternate sites for two of the planned towers in no way jeopardizes the public safety system today.  In fact, my administration has taken significant steps to strengthen the existing system and improve its stability so that people are safe.” 

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    Bruce DePuyt
    Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.