Council Discusses Police/Fire Communications
WETHERSFIELD - A faulty police/fire radio communication system needs to be replaced and members of the Wethersfield Town Council think they have their candidate for the job.

       Councilors met in Town Manager Jeff Bridges’ office last Monday with representatives from Harris Communications to discuss the tentative installation of a $3.5 million system designed with fail-safe features and the ability to work even in less than ideal weather conditions.

       The town’s relationship with Motorola, and the system the company installed in 2001-2002, has been problematic for Wethersfield. Dysfunctional tower equipment and contact dead zones in certain areas of town were just a couple of problems, said Wethersfield Deputy Mayor John Console.

       “There were issues from day one--the way [the town’s contract with Motorola] was written, the scope of what Motorola was supposed to do, compared to what they actually did,” Console said. “The Council at the time, I think, was very hasty in how they handled this whole radio system.”

       Not only that, apparently the system, which cost the town $3.5-$4 million when the price of the new police stations were factored in, is now obsolete, in that the company no longer sells it, he said.

       “There have been instances where Wethersfield police were chasing a suspect into Hartford and lost contact with the officer,” Console said.

       The town is in the middle of a lawsuit with Motorola that was filed in 2005, but for now, the Council is focusing its attention on replacing the faulty system. Councilors were quick to notice one resemblance between Harris Communication’s offer and what they have now--the $3.5 million price tag.

       “Why is it $3.5 million for police and fire to talk to each other when most of the communication is pretty straight forward?” Councilor Paul Montinieri asked the Harris representatives.

       The cost encompasses two high availability switches, transmitters at three sites, new radios for every police and fire vehicle, new dispatch consoles, as well as testing, Harris representatives said. Most of the price tag--$2.1 million--will be directed toward building necessary infrastructure. Not only that, the system will be equipped to brave the elements and has two brains in order to keep it running seamlessly in the event of a malfunction.

       “It’s a big number, and I don’t want people to think we’re just buying hand radios,” Bridges said during the meeting. “There’s a lot more to this.”

       Representatives from Harris revealed more about the system during a presentation given at Monday night’s Town Council meeting. Police and fire personnel will be able to get 96 percent guaranteed portable coverage indoors and 97 percent outdoors, according to Harris Area Sales Manager Ann Marie Stafford.

       An XG-75 portable public safety radio included in the deal has the ability to cut out ambient sound, explained Scott Tschetter of Eastern Communications, which would provide engineering support.

       “The radio has two microphones,” Tshetter said. “You’re able to do active noise cancellation. If you’re in a loud environment, the back microphone picks up the ambient noise and the algorithm is capable of cancelling out the ambient noise.”

       The radio system can also be connected to a smartphone app, which can be useful if personnel are in an area with spotty coverage, Tshetter said.

       “As long as they have their phone on them and are within cellular coverage, they can actually listen in and talk on the radio,” he said. “As far as your cellular carrier is concerned, it’s just a data call.”

       Radio funds the town reserved will cover the cost of the installation for the first three years, but after that is when things may get tricky, Console said.

       At the Council meeting, Stanford implied that Wethersfield may have an opportunity to offset some of the price. Towns can install the system and then add surrounding communities in a cost sharing structure, in which each municipality maintains its independence, Stanford said.

       “It’s kind of a win-win for communities that wouldn’t be able to afford the system on their own,” she said.

       In Waterford, for example, $1 million worth of portable radios were purchased without having to install the entire system because the city was wired into New London’s, Stanford said. How to best distribute the weight of the cost is worked out between the two towns, she said.

       Wethersfield can also wait for another town to purchase the system and then share with it, although Console cautioned against taking this route, pointing to the problems caused by Wethersfield’s current system.

       “This system is so bad,” Console said. “If these other towns wait two years down the road, we’ll never get there.”