By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Members of the Mercer County Commission approved a grant application Wednesday designed to help extend radio coverage for the county’s law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and rescue squads.
The county commission met in a special session to approve a state Homeland Security grant application for $200,000 to complete a communications tower on Elgood Mountain. The commission approved the application unanimously, said Mike Vinciguerra, president of the Mercer County Commission.
Cellphone users will not be able to use the new tower when it is completed, said Robert Hoge, director of Mercer County 911.
“It doesn’t have any cellular carriers on it,” he said. “It’s currently being built to increase the effectiveness of the public safety radio system. It will be a site for the Statewide Interoperable Radio Network (SIRN).”
The system improves interoperable communications with first responders in West Virginia, Hoge said.
“It’s just to increase communications for people here and people in the southern part of West Virginia. It will directly affect first responders in Mercer, Monroe, Summers and Raleigh Counties,” he added.
Mountainous terrain throughout southern West Virginia often gives first responders the same problem commercial cellphone users experience. Mountains block radio signals and cut off communications.
“There are areas where they still can’t communicate with each other via radio,” Hoge said.
This happens despite the fact public safety radios have more power than cellphones. Regular cellphones have a half-watt of power while public safety radios have 40 watts.
Part of the tower was completed in 2013. The grant would allow for its completion, Hoge said. Once the commissioners sign the grant documents, they will be forwarded to Charleston for approval by the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, and state Homeland Security.
— Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com