Webcast Particulars Life and Demise Impression of New Wi-fi System
About 18 minutes into The Newtown Bee’s latest webcast, “Watch & Learn,” aimed at helping residents understand the details of a new citywide upgrade to the emergency communications system to help them with this year’s household referendum, volunteer firefighter Mark DeWolfe summed up on the spot together why the voters were considered is so important.
“This radio system will benefit every resident, visitor, traveler and everyone doing business in Newtown,” he said. “Everyone benefits from the advantages of a powerful, properly dimensioned and appropriate radio system.”
This budget season, culminating in a personal voting session on April 27, taxpayers will vote not only on city and school district budget proposals, but also on capital lockup permits for a $ 1.5 million gas boiler upgrade and LED lighting for the Reed Intermediate School; $ 3.7 million for the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial; and $ 5,041,933, which is the balance remaining when upgrading a local emergency radio and communications system.
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Voters are being asked to approve the balance as the Legislative Council, by order of COVID-19, approved $ 2.5 million in 2020 for the first phase of improvement of $ 7.5 million. The funds approved last year were mainly paid for hardware and equipment needed to order well in advance of the installation, which will begin later this year after the remainder of the funding is approved.
The first webcast in a two-part series, “Watch & Learn Before You Vote,” covered details of the permanent Sandy Hook memorial. The videos are available on The Bee’s Facebook page under the Videos tab and on The Bee’s YouTube channel.
The panel for this Watch & Learn webcast consisted of Sandy Hook Fire Chief and Newtown Emergency Management Director Bill Halstead; Maureen Will, director of emergency communications for Newtown; and DeWolfe, a longtime local volunteer firefighter who helped develop the project.
Coincidentally, the event was presented during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which celebrates the critical and sometimes life-saving efforts of emergency responders.
Radio Silence Scares
Halstead opened the discussion by describing several incidents in recent years in which the existing, obsolete analog radio system failed during critical fire and rescue operations at various dead spots. DeWolfe also described a similar situation.
In any event, fire brigade command personnel either had to use cell phones to link information through the local emergency response center to other answering devices, or to link communications with approaching emergency responders, who in turn relayed the messages to dispatchers, who were temporarily black with the radio transmissions .
Halstead stated that any call to the fire, police or ambulance services, depending on the location, could put the responders in situations where they are temporarily out of contact with the dispatch center and / or other people leaving for support.
He noted situations where structural fires occurred in dead zones and a precarious rescue in early 2020 when numerous parties capsized in a boat at Housatonic, where cell phone relays were the only means of communicating with the shipping center.
As Director of Emergency Management, his concerns are heightened when one considers the significant number of in-city and potentially out-of-town emergency responders who may be affected following a major hurricane, tornado, other weather event, or major emergency.
“When we bought the current system in 2003, we were told that at the time [had a 15-year lifespan]. We are now over 15 years old and the system is just beginning to fail, ”he said. Halstead noted that due to delays or the now-impossible task of sourcing parts, the responding authorities are having to remove parts from less-used vehicles to incorporate into the radio systems of other equipment and police vehicles.
“We’re looking for these parts across the country for repairs to be made,” Halstead said, adding that a defective part resulted in one of the Newtown emergency masts being out of service for almost a month.
“All of these devices have been in these trucks for 18 years and they are failing,” he said.
DeWolfe asked residents to consider electronic items in their own homes.
“I don’t know if people can see that it’s a fixed device [pagers, in-vehicle and portable radios, as well as dispatch center consoles] were turned on the day we bought it and have been running 24/7 ever since, ”he said. “When you think of your own household appliances, there aren’t many parts that you can run for 15, 16, 17 years without a break.
A life / security problem
“It’s really a life / safety issue for the fire department, ambulance and police – the number of calls has increased exponentially, the equipment has reached the end of its life, it is heavily taxed and we just need to replace it,” he added.
From the shipping side, Will spoke of the tense moments she and her staff experience when units responding to serious calls suddenly go dark.
“You are in a dead zone, we know it, everyone takes a breath because there is no point in panicking,” said Will, adding that dispatchers hope that the time of radio silence will pass. “We know where they are going, we know how to anticipate, but we also know that with this new system everything is new and [functioning at] 100 percent.”
She said the new system design was based on input from dozens of local responders, as well as experienced consultants and vendors.
Will said that the respondents noticed positive differences in the quality of the digital transmissions compared to the soon-to-be phased out analog devices as early as the first phase of the system upgrade.
“And with these improvements, it only gets better from here,” she added. “Lots of these [responders] are at public works or at EMS or the police. They are everywhere – and they are husbands, wives, fathers, sons, daughters. And my employees try to protect them all.
“We want to get them out quickly and safely with the right information, but we also want to bring them back home.”
The vote on the absent budget without apology is already in progress and voters can now get these ballots from the town clerk who is holding a special session to vote on the budget without apology on Saturday, April 24, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Otherwise, residents can cast their ballots at the Newtown Middle School polling station on Tuesday, April 27, between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Voters who do not wish to vote in the middle school elections can cast absentee votes in the clerk’s office on April 27 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.