From the archives: Palo Alto reportedly spending $ four million on new radio system; Redwood Metropolis’s expertise was a fiasco

The following story appeared in the June 16, 2017 issue of the Daily Post. We are publishing the story today because it provides background information for today’s discussion by Palo Alto City Council about the Police Department’s decision to encrypt police radios. Palo Alto switched to the digital system in June 2019, but did not switch to encryption until January of this year.

BY JEN NOWELL
Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto police, fire departments and utilities may soon switch to a new radio communications system that will allow authorities across the county to communicate with each other on the same frequencies, but the reliability of the system could be inconsistent.

The city council will vote on Monday (June 19, 2017) to approve the purchase of new Motorola wireless consoles valued at $ 917,000. This is a step in a $ 4 million project.

Charlie Cullen, chief of technical services for the police department, said yesterday that every police and fire department in the county will switch to the new system at some point. Sunnyvale and Santa Clara went live with the new system last year, he said.

But there are reliability concerns in Palo Alto, especially in the foothills, said Cullen. The city will test the devices “extensively” before they go into operation with the system, he said. The city will focus on areas like Page Mill Road, Foothills Park and the vicinity of Skyline Boulevard, Cullen said. When someone is hurt, communication is important.

There was even talk of adding a radio antenna point in the foothills to improve the signal, Cullen said.

Redwood City fiasco

In 2004, Redwood City switched to the new system, but after four years of trouble, the city pulled out and returned to its old system, according to ABC 7 News.

Officials speaking to ABC 7 said they had serious concerns about the reliability of the system and felt that their safety was at risk.

Peter Ingram, then City Manager of Redwood City, told ABC 7 in 2008: “Problems include unacceptable audio distortion, officers inability to interrupt ongoing communications with more urgent communications, and a delay from pressing the microphone button to Point in time A user can start sending. “

The urge to switch to the higher frequency came after the September 11, 2001 attack, Cullen said. The towers fell and the police received word to go, but the firefighters didn’t, he said. With any agency on the higher frequency, the police, fire brigade and even public works can communicate with each other. Currently, Palo Alto police and fire departments are on two separate frequencies, with police firing in the 400MHz range and firing near 150-160MHz, Cullen said. The switch will bring police, fire departments and utilities to new frequencies in the 700 MHz part of the band.

This will help in emergencies like an earthquake, he said. Cullen added that this change would have been helpful during the major anarchist protest in downtown Palo Alto in 2005.

Encryption considered

Officials from other cities were brought in to help with the crowd, but with each agency on a different frequency, Palo Alto had to rent and distribute radios, Cullen said, which cost the city more money.

Radio enthusiasts who monitor police calls may also notice the change. Listeners will most likely need to buy a scanner that can pick up signals in the 700 MHz range, Cullen said.

The department has not yet made a decision on whether to encrypt the channels to prevent people from listening, but Cullen said the “primary talkgroups” most likely will not be encrypted.

In 2012, the Pasadena Police Department switched from analog to digital to prevent the public from listening to police calls.

On June 22, 2015, the council initially approved the city’s participation in the nationwide transition.

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