San Francisco police officers could not call one another on cellphones and were barely able to send text messages while patrolling the 49ers’ two recent playoff games at Candlestick Park, police Chief Greg Suhr said.
The communication breakdown during the NFC Championship Game shows just how challenging it could be for first responders to communicate with one another if there was a catastrophic event such as a major earthquake.
“Regardless of what training we do, communications is always the thing that fails,” Suhr said during testimony in support of a proposed regional communication network for first responders.
At the Niners game, Suhr said, “The cellphones didn’t work. Text messages were hit and miss.” He said with the proposed upgraded communication system, “that would not be a concern we’d have to worry about.”
San Francisco is partnering with other cities in the region to roll out a $100 million communication network known as BayWEB, which would be used only by the area’s public safety workers and allow them to share information, such as building plans, in real time.
Motorola would build, maintain and operate the system, but does not allow voice communication at this point. The project, funded in part with a $50 million federal stimulus grant, is part of a national effort to set up such communication systems after the 9/11 attacks.
“Say the big earthquake happens. Commercial carriers are going to be overwhelmed,” said Anne Kronenberg, executive director of the Department of Emergency Management. “We want a dedicated public safety system so that in the event of the big one, which will happen, we will be able to communicate with each other.”
But members of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee postponed a vote on the project Wednesday over financial concerns.
Critics said the system will saddle The City’s budget with unknown costs for years. The largest cost impacts will be the $43 per month per system user, and the purchase of radios and system-compatible in-vehicle modems or computer devices. And no one knows how many police officers, firefighters, deputy sheriffs and other first responders would use the system.
“Clearly, the needs regionally and within San Francisco are obvious,” said Supervisor John Avalos, who sits on the budget committee. But he said when it comes to the impact on The City’s budget, “We don’t
necessarily know overall what we are getting ourselves into.”
The board’s budget committee is expected to receive more financial information and vote on the
proposal next week.
7 Counties that will use 700 MHz public safety broadband spectrum
$50.6M Federal grant to pay for the broadband network
$21.9M Motorola matching funding to pay for the network
$3M-$7M Range of estimated costs to San Francisco for 16 antenna sites in city over 12 years
$43 Monthly bill per user of the network
Source: Budget Analyst Harvey Rose