WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – The City Council approved a $2.15 million bond to construct a citywide radio communication system that will enable all departments to communicate and coordinate, especially in response to an emergency by an unanimous vote Thursday.
Legislative & Ordinance Chairman Ralph Figy, whose committee brought out the order for the first reading at the council’s Aug. 20, 2015 session, said the proposed communication system is designed to address gaps in the communication capabilities of all city departments.
“The need for better communication was identified over several years during multiple meetings of department heads and others (with specific technical knowledge),” Figy said.
The communication shortcoming of the current system became evident during 2011 when the city was hit by both a tornado and a freak October snowstorm when many emergency responders had to resort to their personal cell phone to communicate.
Technology director Lenore Bernashe said at that August meeting that the tornado and Halloween storm of 2011 exposed the lack of ability to communicate during a crisis, that departments could not speak directly with each other to coordinate a response, and that in many part of the city the current radio system has dead spots.
Fran Cain of the Water Resource Division of the Public Works Department, said at the Aug 18 joint Finance and Legislative & Ordinance committees meeting that while the use of personal cell phones enabled limited communication, other responders did not have situational awareness because they could not hear the cell phone discussion which would be available over a radio system open to all responders.
At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty said Thursday that the proposed radio system in not just limited to hand-held radios.
“This is a very complicated system,” Flaherty said. “It’s not just radios, it a base station, transmitters, a system engineered to have communications in areas of the city identified as dead spots. Westfield is a very large land mass, so it’s expensive.”
The bond will finance the purchase of over 200 portable radios, the construction of a self-supporting communication tower and booster station.
The proposed system incorporates much of the existing infrastructure, but that a new communication tower will be constructed in the area of West Road to eliminate dead spots in that area. The 100-foot-high tower will be located on city land and will be erected next to a booster station which is already equipped with an emergency generator.