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Ref: California counties joining radio networks

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Counties team up for radio deal


EAST BAY: Officials back the formation of a joint powers authority to manage a regional system for crisis communication
By Chris Metinko
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Article Launched: 05/02/2007 03:05:07 AM PDT

Alameda and Contra Costa counties' officials moved a step closer Tuesday to eliminating potential communication breakdowns during the next Bay Area disaster.
The boards of supervisors of both counties approved the formation of a joint powers authority between the counties that would manage the implementation and operation of the digital regional radio system. This system would allow public safety agencies in both counties to communicate directly with each other via radio.
Although such communication may seem fundamental, it's rarely the case in either county. There are a handful of different radio systems emergency services in use in the East Bay, none of which is easily compatible with each other.
For instance, Alameda County fire and sheriff's departments cannot communicate directly with their Oakland or Berkeley counterparts. Instead, the departments have to rely on "black boxes," which capture signals from disparate radio systems. However, even that equipment has limitations, such as a finite range of where the boxes will work.
That is just one example of the emergency radio problems caused by incompatible systems and overcrowded frequencies across the East Bay. Nobody uses the same band of radio frequencies as the California Highway Patrol, except the East Bay Regional Park District. Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Pinole, Concord, Clayton, Pittsburg, Hercules and Martinez police cannot contact their own cities' fire departments via radio. In Richmond, police
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can't radio Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies.
The communication breakdown was best on display during the 1991 Oakland and Berkeley hills fire. Firefighters from surrounding communities converged on the scene but couldn't communicate with one another.
Commander Rocky Medeiros of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office said formation of the new authority is a huge step in connecting the two counties and eliminating a dangerous communication gap that could prove costly during the next emergency.
"If you look at any man-made or natural disaster that has occurred, the No. 1 issue in responding has been communication," Medeiros said.
The regional radio system between counties is expected to cost $60 million, and federal and state grant money will pay for some of it. However, local jurisdictions that participate in the radio system will be responsible for a proportionate share of the remaining costs, and an ongoing subscriber fee will be charged for the system.
The new East Bay Regional Communications System joint powers authority will consist of a 23-member board of directors made up of representatives from a variety of public safety agencies and cities in both counties, as well as officials from the counties themselves.
In Contra Costa, Sheriff Warren Rupf and Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond questioned what they consider a large and potentially unwieldy number of board members, and whether decisionmaking could then become impractical.
"I wonder how 23 of us are going to get to the important business of this project," Rupf said. "I'm not an advocate of more government and complicating things."
Supervisor Susan Bonilla, who served as Concord's mayor last year, said shrinking the JPA board's membership could send the wrong message to cities.
"Working together is imperative to the success of the project," she said. "You can't ask the cities to put up money and not have a voice at the table."

Copyright 2007 Contra Costa Times Newspapers. All Rights Reserved Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of any of the contents of this service without the express written consent of Contra Costa Times Newspapers is expressly prohibited.

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