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Emergency number: $2 million; Pa. county gets state grant to upgrade 911 center capabilities

ALLENTOWN, Pa. Carbon County will get $2 million from the state to upgrade the county's 911 equipment and capabilities, county commissioners announced Thursday.

The county 911 Communications Center on Broad Mountain in Nesquehoning has gotten new computers, emergency dispatcher's consoles and a computer-aided dispatch system totaling about $1.3 million.

The state Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the county $2,011,392 for improvements that have been completed and for two improvements that are continuing.

The second phase would enhance the system with a geographic positioning and mapping system to locate cell phone callers in the largely rural county.

"There will be a point in time where we'll be able to identify the exact location of someone calling on a cell phone," Commissioner Chairman William O'Gurek said.

The reimbursement comes from a $1.25 state tax on monthly cellular phone bills. That money is earmarked for improvements to 911 systems across the state.

In July, Carbon County got just $314,889 in reimbursement from the state Emergency Management Agency for its 911 upgrades. At the time, the county had spent $1.3 million on 911 center improvements and commissioners were upset with the small sum from the state.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein said this year the state expects to collect about $90 million in wireless phone taxes, while requests for reimbursement are double, at $180 million. The wireless tax expires in June 2009 and counties across the commonwealth are hoping to extend it so they can be repaid for their 911 system enhancements.

Nothstein said Carbon must request more funding next year. A specific amount was not available Thursday. The county expects to get full reimbursement for its efforts, unlike others that have fallen behind.

"There are some counties that are not near as far along as Carbon," Nothstein said. "It's costing a lot more to do it than they expected."

Also Thursday, the county got a $16,500 state grant to support the county Citizens Corps. The corps is made up of local volunteers who receive free disaster training from the county Emergency Management Agency.

O'Gurek said the Citizens Corps was helpful during floods last year that damaged homes and during ice storms that knocked out electricity for days by checking on the welfare of residents.

"They're support for first responders and governments," O'Gurek said. "They keep people safe and comfortable during those types of emergencies."

Nothstein said that Carbon is second only to Philadelphia in its number of Citizen Corps members. The county has about 400 volunteers.

"As many that want to take [the training] are welcome," county Emergency Management Director Mark Nalesnik said.

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