Fixing city's radio system will cost $1M more than expected
|By STEVE COLLINS, The
BRISTOL -- Fixing the city's emergency radio system -- which is afflicted
with "dead spots" that make it impossible for police and fire personnel to
make calls in some crucial areas -- will cost at least $1 million more than
clear the airwaves for public safety crews across town, the city needs to
put up new antennas, install new servers and take other corrective measures
estimated to cost as much as $3 million.
"It's quite a large number and it wasn't planned for," said Comptroller
Contributing to the soaring expense is the recent discovery that Nextel
pulled the plug on a backup radio antenna on Rattlesnake Mountain, earmarked
for use if the main system went down, about six years ago.
Robley Newton, the city's former emergency planning coordinator, said that
an ex-police chief, William Kohnke, apparently dropped the ball when the
company notified the city that it was changing the service on a radio tower
to cellular phone use.
Newton said the city has to have a backup system in case of a crisis that
knocks out the main radio system.
The city earmarked $500,000 in this year's budget to start socking away
money to upgrade its radios -- which often don't work near Bristol Eastern
High School, Wal-Mart, Lake Compounce and other crucial spots -- and planned
to spend another $1 million by 2003.
But the latest price tag puts the project at $2.7 million -- and replacing
land phone lines with a microwave system between dispatchers and the towers
would add another $300,000 or so.
Newton said that Motorola, the company whose radio equipment is used by the
city, figured out that the computer server that runs the existing system
can't handle the input from new tower locations needed to make sure dead
spots are minimized.
Motorola told the city it will cost about $1.7 million to upgrade the
existing system and take care of an emergency backup.
But to expand the radio system for two extra transmitting sites, which are
needed to make sure communications reach the entire city, will cost another
$1 million, a Motorola senior account manager, John Zaleski, wrote to
Newton. Each extra site would cost $500,000, he said.
Newton said two more transmitters are needed.
Zaleski also urged the city to consider spending $300,000 more "to improve
the reliability of the system" by replacing telephone lines between the
towers and the server with a microwave system.
Newton said the city has no choice except to take care of the radio problems
"All emergency plans are based on communications," he said, and without the
ability for public safety personnel to talk to one another in a crisis,
major problems could arise.
Klocko said the Board of Finance has already given its blessing to spend
$1.7 million to upgrade the existing system and add a backup to it. It will
consider this month whether to approve another $1 million for new sites and
the $300,000 microwave system, he said.
Klocko said that he's ready to sell bonds as soon as Feb. 11 to cover the
tab for the system -- as well as the $1.2 million George Street
reconstruction and two recent land buys -- but he's also not sure officials
should jump into it so fast.
The city bought a sophisticated $1 million Motorola radio system in 1990
that can serve police, fire, public works and other city departments
The trunk system has five frequencies assigned to it so that calls can be
automatically routed through on a channel that's open.
As of Monday, Motorola no longer offers parts or servicing for the
12-year-old system, Newton said.
According to minutes of an August 1999 meeting of key emergency personnel,
the city's existing radio system has dead spots in a number of areas but it
also suffers from technical problems with its circuitry and computers.
A confidential memorandum by Newton at the time said an electrical fire at
the 40-year-old Willis Street tower site on South Mountain -- or even a
brush fire there -- "could cripple citywide radio communication."
To make sure that emergency personnel can use their radios, officials have
said, the city needs three towers -- on Chippens Hill, near Lake Compounce
and somewhere in the northeastern section of town.
Newton said Nextel will let the city put its antenna on a tower in the
northeastern section of town.
Bristol Press 2002