News

New system makes it easier for first responders to communicate

Danville residents will be safer in the event of an emergency as town officials officially launched its arm of the East Bay Regional Communications System on Tuesday.

"Day to day, our police department can handle calls for service…but when disasters happen, our police agency, our first responders don't have the ability to communicate with each other at least electronically," said Mayor Newell Arnerich. "Communication and clarity of information is absolutely crucial on a second by second basis."

The interoperable communications system allows the town to communicate with 42 other public agencies during an emergency. The system, long a priority of the Danville Town Council and other East Bay government entities, provides greater unity in responding to crisis situations and allows for a higher degree of cooperation and collaboration during emergencies.

But the equipment carried by Danville's first responders will change only slightly. Police Chief Steve Simpkins, who celebrated the launch by contacting Dublin Police Chief Tom McCarthy on the new radio network, showed off a walkie-talkie with additional dials for different signals. Danville was one of 25 to 30 units linked into the Central County channel, now that the departments are linked into EBRCS, they can connect directly with various police and fire dispatches.

"The agencies used a variety of different radio systems," said Nat Rojanasathira, assistant to the town manager. "Being able to bring everyone on same network, to use same equipment, allows us to be able to communicate with other agencies when they come to Danville to assist in a major disaster, or vice versa."

The radio tie-in will be located in the fire station on San Ramon Valley Boulevard and allow first responders to connect to a radio network of 36 different sites and six cells spread throughout 1,500 square miles in the East Bay. Danville officials will now be able to communicate with member agencies -- including 30 cities, six special districts three colleges, BART and Caltrans -- while the EBRCS is designed to offer participation to adjoining counties, as well as state and federal agencies.

"In a crisis, every minute counts, and having the ability to coordinate with our neighboring agencies for assistance is a great benefit to the Town and region as a whole," said Town Manager Joe Calabrigo. "This communication system will help us provide a unified response during an emergency."

Before the communication system's unofficial implementation in Danville earlier this year, officers had to call a cellphone, landline or

send an email in order to communicate something.The EBRCS has been a major regional effort 10 years in the making.

During crises, the Police Department and other local agencies relied on a communications truck using radio signals to broadcast messages to

multiple public agencies, according to Arnerich.

That method made for a slower communications process, and is even less effective in other types of situations such as searches for a suspect or a missing person.

Connecting to the EBRCS cost approximately $70 million, Mayor Arnerich noted, adding that Tri-Valley mayors lobbied heavily to receive $51 million in Homeland Security funding. The project is one of the first large multi-jurisdictional projects in California.

"Today we're celebrating for something we hope we don't have to use but we know it's there when we need it," Arnerich said.

At a small tie-in celebration Tuesday afternoon, Dublin Chief McCarthy was heard loudly through the speakers, adding, "Thanks for calling in. It's a good thing we're able to talk to each other now."

Oakland is the largest East Bay city and one of the few local public agencies to forgo the communications system, according to the East Bay

Regional Communications System Authority.

Arnerich said he hopes Oakland will sign on as a subscriber to the system in the coming years.

Bay City News Service contributed to this story

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