WALLINGFORD — Town departments have collaborated on a plan to replace the town’s aging radio systems with a more modern system that will allow communication between departments responding to emergencies.
The town-wide radio system will put all departments – including police, fire, education, public works and public utilities – under the same “umbrella,” essentially “eliminating a number of disparate radio systems in town and combining them into one system,” Police Chief William Wright said.
The town has entered negotiations with Motorola Solutions, which supplies the police department’s current radio system, for the new radio system, expected to cost between $5.95 million and $7 million, Wright said.
The Town Council voted 8-0 last month to approve a bid waiver for the project, allowing the town to enter negotiations with Motorola. Once the two sides agree on a price, the Town Council will decide whether to authorize the funds.
Mayor William W. DIckinson Jr. said the town intends to bond the project.
Town departments currently operate different radio systems that do not allow communication between agencies, which Wright said is “critical to mitigating” public safety events, such as the shooting at the Oakdale Theatre in December.
“Over the last 20 or so years, there has been a proliferation of public safety events, locally and nationally, where a mutual aid response is necessary,” Wright said in a Oct. 13 memo to Dickinson. “Where there isn't effective communication that's where the breakdowns start to occur.”
Wright said schools, for example, are currently not able to communicate via radio with police or other agencies. Public Works, the Fire Department, and the Water and Sewer Divisions also operate their own radio systems with no interoperability with other town departments. Many of those systems are also aging and have dead spots.
Over the past 18 months, police have been planning to replace their radio system, provided by Motorola.
Wright collaborated with Fire Chief Richard Heidgerd in planning the radio placement and said “it became quickly apparent that there were other town agencies with disparate radio systems that were varying in age, state-of-repair and coverage.”
With the new “trunked” radio system, town agencies will be able to have their own segregated private radio communication while also being able to create intra-agency and inter-agency talk groups. It will also allow Wallingford to communicate with other state and local agencies, such as Amtrak and state police.
Wright, Heidgerd and other public safety officials appeared before the Town Council last month to seek approval for the bid waiver.
Democratic Councilor Vincent Testa said he’s happy to know departments will be able to communicate with one another.
“Knowing that a greeter in our school can hit the button and call the police and have an instant contact with police or fire... that’s amazing,” Testa said.
Wright said Motorola has a master contract with Connecticut, which “outlines a pricing schedule for radio components, subscriber units and infrastructure." The proposal given to Wallingford by Motorola, Wright said, “presents a deeply discounted costs, well under the state contracting price.”
Wright said Wallingford police have always used Motorola radio infrastructure “as far back as our records show.”
Testa said while “the issue of bid waivers can be sensitive at times” and there are some people who say a bid waiver should never be approved, he feels this circumstance warrants it and added that Wright “went above and beyond in justifying it.”
Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein and Democratic Councilor Jason Zandri both said at the meeting they usually don’t approve bid waivers, however, both voted in favor.
In explaining why a bid waiver is appropriate, Wright said that without a waiver, “it will be necessary to hire a consultant to write public bid specifications,” which would likely require paying a consultant money to create specifications because “town departments do not have the expertise to write such technical specifications.” Wright noted that other municipalities have had to pay “over $50,000” to consultants.
“It’ll back this project up probably a year or more,” Wright told the Town Council last month.
Wright said it will take about 18 months for the radio system to become operational once work starts. The project will involve replacing two existing towers next to the police station and near the Cook Hill Fire Station to make the towers compatible with the new system.
Wright said the life expectancy for the portable radio equipment is about 20 years, 50 years for the new towers.