Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
The Menlo Park Fire Protection District’s committee for strategic planning posed the following question to our firm regarding emergency communications systems in San Mateo County. This document is our response to those questions. Our firm is contractually responsible for design, engineering and ongoing support of most of these systems. 1. What changes have been made to the County Communications System since 9/11? Upgrades, interoperability, expansion etc. It is important to note that not all emergency communications systems in San Mateo County are owned or administered by the County government. Most cities have their own police radio system. The ALS JPA owns the fire radio system that serves the north and central fire zones, and the Firenet Six JPA owns the fire radio system that serves the south and coastal fire zones. Seamless radio interoperability exists among all fire service agencies and among law enforcement agencies, but not between police and fire. The fire radio systems have been redesigned, upgraded and augmented to improve reliability and coverage since 9/11. Federal grant funds have been available, combined with local funds from the ALS JPA and FireNet Six JPAs. Grant funds have been used to buy base station radio infrastructure hardware. JPA funds have been used to pay for engineering, installation and maintenance services. The fire radio systems in San Mateo County are in good condition and meet the business requirements of the fire service. The countywide coordinated fire radio system is designed and built as four separate zoned systems, each of which have dedicated dispatch and command channels using multi-site fault-resistant voted simulcast technology. Each zone can stand on its own. This is a key design element to localize the impact if a failure were to occur. There are several levels of redundancy within each zone, plus the zones have overlapping coverage. In the unlikely event of a complete failure of the systems in a specific zone, operations could be moved to the system that serves that adjacent geographic zone. The Command-51 radio system is a countywide radio system with receivers and transmitters in all four zones. This system offers yet another level of redundancy, and is a resource that can be used for large, multi-agency incidents. One of the most significant enhancements to the fire radio system since 9/11 is automatic fault detection and notification. Our staff is electronically notified when anomalies occur so we can take proactive action, often before the system users notice a problem.

Telecommunications Engineering Associates

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Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
DC power systems with substantial battery capacity have been installed at most transmitter sites. This provides short-term uninterruptable power when commercial power fails until gasoline-powered generators start. 2. What is the current state of our County system? (Police and Fire.) The countywide fire radio system is in excellent condition. It is reliable and the existing equipment is maintainable and upgradeable. The countywide fire station alerting system (FSA) is obsolete and needs to be replaced. A competitive selection process for a replacement system began about 4 years ago. Contracts have recently been signed for the replacement of the FSA core components. Implementation has begun and fire departments will have the opportunity to participate in the new system later this year. The cities have not had access to federal grant funds for local radio system improvements, however most cities have found alternative sources for funding to upgrade their systems. Several cities have recently replaced their police base station radio infrastructure or currently have projects in-progress to do so. The police radio systems in San Mateo County are in good condition and meet the business requirements of local law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Office and the County EMS Agency use the County’s UHF digital trunked radio system. The system has been upgraded and is currently being transitioned to a 700 MHz digital trunked system. There is no backup for the system, as evidenced by the fact that ambulance personnel must resort using the fire radio system when the trunked system fails. Coverage is adequate on mobile radios, but marginal for handheld radios used inside buildings. Our most significant vulnerabilities to disruption of essential communication during emergencies relate to electrical power outages, telephone line problems and physical building durability. There is significant disparity in the construction standards for buildings where our fire radio infrastructure is installed. A few contemporary buildings are excellent, while other buildings are vulnerable to earthquakes and power outages.

Telecommunications Engineering Associates

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Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
3. What is the status of our Dispatch Center? Are we antiquated or do we have the latest technology? The fire radio system is separate and distinct from the dispatch center. The dispatch center is located in the basement of the Hall of Justice in Redwood City and is managed by the County of San Mateo. The fire radio system infrastructure is owned by the ALS JPA and the FireNet Six JPA. The systems are designed so that the fire service can select its dispatch service provider without having to change the core fire radio system infrastructure. The basement of the Hall of Justice is an inadequate location for a critically important emergency communications center. The building is not constructed to essential facility standards and there is insufficient space for workers or for the technology that’s needed to support a modern public-safety dispatch center. The computer aided dispatch system is old, but well-maintained and extremely reliable. It is a highly functional system with numerous custom interfaces that have been developed to support the fire service. It will have to be replaced at some point, however careful planning will be needed to assure the features and functionality that are crucial to the fire service are carried forward to the new system. The E911 telephone system used at the County’s dispatch center is modern and reliable. It is capable of supporting Next Generation 911 features with minor upgrades. The fire service has a secondary dispatch center that is used as an emergency relocation site. This facility is located at Fire Station 9 in Redwood City. Station-9 is built to essential facility standards, though not the most current version of the standard. The secondary dispatch center can receive and transmit on the dispatch and command channels for each of the four zones, however it does not have the capability to directly answer E911 telephone calls. A good workaround to this is handled through a callforwarding arrangement. There is no practical communications dispatch relocation plan for the Sheriff’s Office or other law enforcement agencies served by the County communications center. EMS traffic can be handled by the secondary fire dispatch center, however it is questionable whether the County’s trunked radio system could serve EMS if the an event occurred that disabled the Hall of Justice complex.

Telecommunications Engineering Associates

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Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
4. What is the 5 year plan for County Communications? How it works? Our firm maintains equipment lists for core infrastructure that comprises the fire radio system. We make recommendations when equipment needs to be replaced. In reality, replacement and upgrades have been done when grant money becomes available. We submit prioritized lists of projects based on the availability of grant funds. The Fire Chiefs Association’s committee on communications technology and the FireNet Six board of directors review, amend and approve our recommendations. It has not been possible to implement a replacement schedule for the fire radio system infrastructure because there is no source of funding other than occasional and unpredictable grants. The County of San Mateo is responsible for replacing the equipment used at the dispatch center. We are not aware of the details of County’s replacement plan or schedule. Each fire department is responsible for planning and budgeting for replacement of mobile and portable radios, and for the fire station alerting system (FSA) equipment that is located in each fire station. We are not aware of formal replacement plans or schedules for individual fire departments. 5. When were all the transmitters updated? Hundreds of different components comprise the fire radio system infrastructure. Transmitters, receivers, multiplexers, GPS master oscillators, antennas and power supplies from different manufacturers are assembled into cohesive systems. The age of this equipment ranges from a few months to approximately 12 years. Items have been systematically replaced as funds become available. The system is in very good condition. The maximum life of a given piece of equipment is determined primarily by the environment in which it is installed. A radio receiver can provide extremely reliable operation for more than 20 years if it is housed in a clean, dry, and cool environment. To the contrary, the life of the same type of receiver could be just a few years if housed in a hot, humid building that doesn’t have proper ventilation.

Telecommunications Engineering Associates

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Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
6. Is our system Analog or Digital? Which one is better for Fire? The fire radio systems use a hybrid of analog and digital technology. Communications with field units via radio is accomplished using analog technology. The base station radio equipment (at fixed locations) is connected to one of the four regional hub sites using digital transport facilities. We believe this is the ideal balance for the fire radio system. There have been numerous confirmed reports of problems with over-the-air digital radio technology in the fire service. (Please refer to the attached white papers on why some digital trunked radio systems are perceived as failures and on the difference between analog and digital.) 7. Is VHF or UHF a better bandwidth to use? We believe the best radio frequencies for the fire service are in the VHF band (150-174 MHz.) where our current radios operate. The fire service in San Mateo County has been aggressively diligent in identifying suitable frequencies and obtaining FCC licenses over the last 30 years. As a result, sufficient frequencies exist within the County to meet the business requirements. Almost all local, state and federal fire mutual aid operations are conducted on analog VHF frequencies. The fire service in San Mateo County is ideally positioned for reliable radio communication should mutual aid respond into the County. A good example is the San Bruno explosion incident. Almost every firefighting apparatus in the nation is equipped with a VHF analog radio that is capable of operating on the San Mateo County fire radio system. Higher frequencies are not necessarily better frequencies. In most cases, the best frequencies are those that can be obtained and licensed in sufficient quantity to meet operational needs. We have that in San Mateo County.

Telecommunications Engineering Associates

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Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
8. Should we all go to UHF 400 or 800? We believe future public-safety radio communication will be based on broadband technology using Internet protocols. The technology will be similar to today’s VOIP telephone systems. This technology is not available today, however development is moving quickly. We estimate that it will commonplace within 10 years. Digital trunked radio technology, such as that used by the County’s radio system, will quickly give way to broadband alternatives. It’s too soon to predict which frequency band these broadband radio systems will operate on We don’t know of any compelling reason for the fire service to change to radio system that operates on higher frequencies at this time. 9. Trunked Systems better or not? Trunked radio systems are based on a technology where computers are used to dynamically assign radio channels on an as-needed basis. The technology is beneficial when an insufficient number of radio frequencies are available to meet the business needs using non-trunked systems. The fire service in San Mateo County is fortunate to have licenses to operate on numerous VHF frequencies so trunking is not required. Trunking technology should be used when the business case warrants it, and the case does not exist for the fire service in San Mateo County. (See attached white paper on trunked radio technology.) 10. Is there any future plan to integrate with the SMC Sheriff’s radio system? There is no plan to replace the existing analog VHF fire radio system with the County’s 700 MHz digital trunked radio system. The VHF fire system provides much better coverage on portable radios and is much more resilient to failure. We do recommend that fire service agencies consider installing a 700 MHz digital trunked mobile radio in command vehicles for the purpose of improved interoperability with County EMS and the Sheriff’s Office at major incidents. We believe radios for this purpose have been purchased with grant funds. 11. What backup systems do we have for dispatch and transmitters during emergencies? The fire radio systems have four levels of redundancy. The infrastructure is highly reliable and quite diverse. If a failure occurs, it would be localized to a relatively small Telecommunications Engineering Associates Page 6

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
region of the County and the redundant features of the system would minimize the impact on routine operations. The fire service has a backup dispatch center at Fire Station 9 in Redwood City. Calls can be processed at this location. Some systems may be impaired depending on the reason that dispatch operations were relocated to this backup facility, however there would be continuity of basic emergency dispatch. Each city has its own plan for contending with law enforcement communications emergencies. All police departments have a minimum of two autonomous radio systems that can be used in the event of a catastrophic failure of its primary system. The County’s digital trunked radio system has numerous single points of failure and there is no adequate alternative system to provide radio service to all County government radio users in the event of a failure. 12. What is the emergency plan? The most likely cause of disrupted communications during an emergency will be structural damage to buildings where radio infrastructure is housed and electrical power outages. Most of our key radio sites have generator power, however maintenance of the generators is fragmented and uncertain. It is likely that that the base station transmitters and receivers that comprise the fire radio system will continue to function in most any emergency so long as they have proper electrical power and the buildings in which they are housed remain intact. Our firm is available to participate with emergency planners regarding various failure scenarios. 13. Are there any grants or funding we could use to upgrade our system? The fire service has been fortunate to receive federal DHS funds via the County of San Mateo Office of Emergency Services (OES). Unfortunately, the amount and timing of these funds has been unpredictable, making it very difficult to effectively plan for system growth and enhancement. Some fire service agencies have directly received federal Assistance to Firefighters grants.

Telecommunications Engineering Associates

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Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
Our subjective opinion is that the fire service is not taking full advantage of potential grant opportunities. A significant investment in human resources (employees or consultants) would be required to seek out, apply for, and administer grant funding. 14. Who is the primary communications contractor in SMCO? Motorola is the primary contractor and provider of hardware and services for the County of San Mateo. Motorola sells equipment and software to the County, and provides installation and maintenance services. The County also has a small radio shop as part of its Information Services Department. Our firm is the primary provider of system management, engineering, installation and 24x7 support for fire and local police radio systems which are not under the jurisdiction of the County itself. TEA is a small firm with 10 employees and focuses on providing objective and independent advice that is separate and autonomous from equipment manufacturers and dealers. TEA prefers to not sell radio equipment, however it will integrate hardware into projects when requested to do so by its clients. 15. Does this go out to bid or is this a sole source Most of the infrastructure radio equipment that has been acquired since 9/11 has been purchased for the fire service by County OES using DHS grant funds. OES tasks the County Purchasing division to procure the equipment based on technical specifications that our firm provides. Radio equipment can and should be purchased from the lowest responsible bidder. Long-term continuity is essential to effectively manage and administer the fire radio systems. Consistency in engineering and maintenance is critically important for reliability and cost-effective operation. For this reason, engineering and support services are not competitively bid. The County of San Mateo uses Motorola, Inc. for this. The city police departments and the fire service use our firm. Procurement of mobile and portable radio equipment is handled by individual fire service agencies in accordance with their local purchasing policies. In most cases, such products are purchased under the terms of the Western States Contracting Alliance (WSCA) which is a cooperative purchasing organization for government entities. http://www.aboutwsca.org/

Telecommunications Engineering Associates

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Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
16. Who is the primary repair company for radios? Is this countywide or agency specific? Our firm is responsible for 24x7 support of critical fire radio communications infrastructure. This equipment is installed at numerous fixed locations throughout the County. All of this equipment is connected to one of four regional hub locations that serve the north, central or south fire zone. Mobile and portable radios are supported by the manufacturer or its dealers. Radios made by Kenwood, Motorola, Harris and Bendix-King are used in the fire radio system, making true competitive procurement a reality. In most cases, the firm that sells the mobile or portable radio will repair it. 17. If you got to design a system from scratch, what would it look like? We are looking forward to designing and building “voice over broadband” radio systems, however the technology hasn’t arrived yet. The ideal system would be highly tolerant of faults, have excellent audio quality, and take full advantage of proven Internet protocols. It would allow for peer-to-peer communication without the need to have base station infrastructure, much like our legacy analog systems do. In the meantime, we desire to continue to support and augment the analog VHF fire radio system. The technology is highly effective, very reliable, and comparatively inexpensive. We recommend focusing expenditures on site facilities such as buildings, antennas supporting structures, emergency power generators and broadband backhaul facilities (fiber optic and microwave) to connect remote sites to regional hub locations. Immediate benefit can be realized, while positioning the fire service and law enforcement agencies to take advantage of broadband technology. We encourage the fire service to look toward voice over broadband technology for future radio systems. We conclude that P25 digital trunked technology will rapidly decline in popularity as broadband alternatives emerge. //

Telecommunications Engineering Associates

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Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
Fire Radio System VHF transmitter and receiver sites

Telecommunications Engineering Associates

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Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
City Police Radio Sites

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Menlo Park Fire Protection District Strategic Planning Committee

Response to Questions Regarding Communications Systems
San Mateo County Digital Trunked Radio Sites

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