Watertown’s Police and Fire departments will be getting new portable radios as part of upgrades to the first responder radio system that has become unreliable.
On Tuesday night, the Town Council approved borrowing $1.77 million to fund the first of two phases in the $4 million plan to upgrade the Townwide radio infrastructure. The second phase is planned to be completed next year.
The system is used by the Police, Fire and Department of Public Works to communicate. The system also links Watertown’s first responders with police and fire departments in nearby communities, as well as regional fire and police organizations.
Fire Chief Bob Quinn said that the radio equipment being used by the WPD and WFD has reached the end of its useful life, and is so old that it no longer is serviced by the manufacturer. This has caused problems, he told the Council.
“Over the last four years both Police and Fire Department have been experiencing increasing coverage issues, increasing failures with radio equipment and the Verizon copper line, and a lack of redundancy in the system,” Quinn said.
The town hired a consultant to study the current system, and come up with a plan to upgrade and improve the Town’s radio system. Chick Langone, a consultant from Langone & Associates, said that along with aging radio equipment, other factor have made Watertown’s radio system unreliable. One is the large new developments, which interfere with signals.
A survey of the Town found that the handheld radios used by police officers and firefighters were unreliable in large areas of the Westside and East End. To fix that, the plan calls for replacing the main radio transmitter located in a space the Town leases in a condominium building, Langone said, as well as equipment at the Police Station, the old Police Station, and on Coolidge Hill Road. Also, receive-only equipment would be placed at Cunniff Elementary School and Fire Station 3 on Orchard Street.
The Department of Public Works also uses the Town’s radio system, but they have purchased handheld and in-vehicle radios recently, Langone said, so they do not need to be replaced.
Another part of the system that needs to be replaced are the copper lines leased from Verizon, Langone said. They will be replaced by fibre optics lines leased from RCN, Lagone said.
These steps will improve radio communication in Town, he said.
“It will provide a much more robust signal level across town, especially in areas where we noticed much more building growth over the years and building density, which does impede radio signals,” Langone said.
In Phase 1, the handheld radio equipment will be replaced, and renovate the main transmitter. The work is expected to take 6-9 months. The work on the transmitter also includes work on the antenna, and improvements to the room where the transmitter is located, which is neither heated nor air conditioned and has had problems with water damage, Langone said.
Phase 2 would cost $2.3 million and is planned to be funded next year in Fiscal 2022 and is expected to take 12-15 months to complete, Langone said.
Town Manager Michael Driscoll said that the $1.77 million budget includes $225,750 to upgrade the transmitter facility, $1.52 million to purchase portable radios and a consultant fee of $22,500. The Town will pay back the loan over 10 years.
See more details in the report to the Town Council by clicking here (NOTE: the slide presentation at the Jan. 12 meeting was different from the one in the document).