COUDERSPORT –– Potter County officials plan on making upgrades to the county’s 911 system.

At a meeting last month, the county commissioners approved an expenditure of more than $370,000 that marks the first step in improvements expected to cost approximately $3.8 million. Those initial funds came from a Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency grant to support the early build out of the system.

“It’s been a difficult process to nail down what we need to do. We’ve been working on this for two years, but now we need to pull the trigger and get it going. This system can no longer be serviced,” said Commissioner Doug Morley. “There is still a little more testing and tweaking that needs to be done but we expect this to move forward because it has to.”

Morley said that the frequency of failures within the system is increasing. Much of the system is analog, while new systems are digital. The two types are not typically compatible, he said.

Some communications use a microwave system that is completely obsolete. No companies continue to make parts, and replacement parts are hard to come by.

The radio system is also out-of-date and needs to be restarted regularly. That sounds easy enough, Morley said, except that the reboot must be completed on the tower that causes lengthy outages for emergency responders.

Coverage is also poor in some areas because of failing equipment and is exacerbated by the tall mountains and steep valleys. Three areas of concern are located in or near Shinglehouse, Genesee and Roulette where signals are sometimes nearly impossible to get.

“This leaves us in a situation where we can’t just do a quick fix. We need a system built with today’s technology. We can’t just add new to the old stuff anymore,” Morley said. “The county needs to take on this project and do what’s required to bring the system online.”

Also at the meeting,  Commissioner Susan Kefover announced a move aimed at making improvements to emergency services across Potter County.

Two billboards will go up in July highlighting the county’s first responders and the need for recruits into those positions. The billboards will be placed on U.S. Route 6, one to the east of Coudersport and the second to the west of town.

“Commissioners are sponsoring this campaign to see if the attention and importance to the need will inspire volunteers in all departments across the county—fire, ambulance and rescue,” said Kefover, who said she has received interest from other communities looking to employ similar tactics to recruit first responders if the effort is fruitful.

The next meeting of the county commissioners will be held at 11 a.m. June 21 at the Gunzburger Building in Coudersport.