The Turlock police and fire departments are facing the very real possibility that the radio system that keeps the public safety operations running could have a complete failure at any moment.
During an emergency City Council meeting Thursday night, the Turlock City Council voted unanimously to begin the process of replacing the antiquated radio system for an advanced radio and computer aided dispatch/records management systems.
On a best-case scenario, the new radio system could be in operation within six to eight months, which is the minimum time it would take for Motorolla to build, ship, stage and install the project.
The current radio system in operation is a trunked 800MHz analog system that was installed in Turlock in 1997. Due to the age of the system, maintenance and repair support is no longer available from the makers, which leaves it vulnerable to disruptions of service or a complete failure of service, explained Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar.
The system also does not meet the Project 25 standard that was implemented after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. That standard allows for various agencies to program any channel within that system and talk to one another.
The need for a new radio system was identified in 2011, but because of the strapped budget from the Great Recession, the estimated $2 million price tag was out of reach for the City.
In 2013, the police department was planning a move from the one facility to another and the fear was that if the current system was shut down for the move, it might not restart. The police department was forced to find a back-up power source for the radios on eBay and with that they were able to bring a portion of the system up at the new facility and shut down some at the old site. The process was repeated until the complete system was in operation at the new facility.
The system was functioning adequately, until October 2017, when it had a “catastrophic failure” according to Amirfar. A water leak in the radio room took down five of the city’s six radio channels for about eight hours. The police department was able to use one channel through the Stanislaus County radio system and fire department was still on the one channel that was still operating. Delta Wireless was able to dry the system out and get it back to functioning, but they advised a problem could crop up at any point down the line and in February that prediction came true.
Since February the radios have been increasingly static and in some areas of the town officers have not been able to hear dispatch or vice versa. It was thought the static was coming from some interference, but while technicians were on site checking to find the interference, the system went into failsafe mode, because the power source was fluctuating. The back up power source was checked and it was found to be no longer in working order.
The fear is that the problems that have been festering with the radios will only grown in magnitude and eventually fail, which could jeopardize the safety of emergency personnel and the community they protect and serve.
“We don’t know when it’s going to fail, but we do know it’s not an ‘if’ it’s going to fail,” Amirfar said.
It’s not just the radio system that is in need of an update. The computer aided dispatch system, also known as CAD, was installed in the early 1990s and is no longer integrating with new systems because the technology has been outpaced.
CAD is a software system that among other functions, allows dispatchers to keep track of calls pending and the location and availability of emergency personnel. The current CAD cannot accommodate the new standards and future reporting expectations. While it is not of immediate need, like the radio system, it is a necessary component to the overall update.
The purchase of the radio and CAD system would be around $5.7 million, with the radio portion costing approximately $3.7 million. The police department has identified $3 million from enterprise funds from various city departments that utilize the radio system that could go toward the total cost of the project.
Initially, it was suggested the remaining funds come from the general reserve funds, but that amount would bring the reserve funds close to the $6.5 million minimum the City has mandated be kept at all times.
Instead, the City Council opted to go with a leasing option that will see $2 million go to the outright purchase of the CAD system, and $1 million as a down payment on the radio system, with the remainder being financed. That option would have $2.7 million financed at an interest rate of 4.12 percent and will result in an annual payment of $338, 331 for a 10-year period. The total payment would be $3,383,310, which would make the cost of the lease $655,620. There would be no penalties for paying it off early.
“The officers and firefighters need a reliable communications system in order to respond safely to the thousands of calls for service that they receive yearly,” Amirfar said. “The safety of our residents and first responders is our first priority. This new Radio and CAD/RMS system is a testament to the City of Turlock’s ongoing commitment to public safety.”