Concerns raised over costs for San Francisco public safety communication systems 

click to enlarge Mayor Ed Lee's plans for more public safety communication systems are being questioned. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images File Photo
  • Mayor Ed Lee's plans for more public safety communication systems are being questioned.

As Mayor Ed Lee is drafting his proposed two-year city budget, questions are being raised about whether San Francisco should advance plans for four separate public safety communication systems totaling about $270 million during the next five years.

The debate over the investment comes as The City is attempting to turn around a long-troubled technology history, rife with wasteful spending, duplicative efforts and outdated software.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is moving ahead with a $117 million communication system while public safety departments have plans for a $70 million replacement of the 13-year-old 800 megahertz radio system. There also are plans for the purchase of $6 million worth of public service radios used by city workers.

And The City is participating in a $75 million regional emergency communication system called BayWEB, which is backed by a $50 million federal grant.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu raised numerous questions this week during a Budget and Finance Committee hearing about whether The City needs to create multiple systems. Chiu suggested the existing plans were ill-conceived, suffering from a failure to name a permanent chief information officer and the turnover of department heads in recent years.

“It is kind of a mess,” Chiu said during the hearing. “I’m still unsettled as to where all this is going.”

As much as Chiu was unsettled, the head of the Department of Emergency Management, Anne Kronenberg, was firm.

“From our perspective, we are not duplicating efforts,” she said. “We have separate projects that are occurring that are all very necessary.”

But Chiu was unconvinced, and he suggested The City at least could consolidate the Muni radio system with the planned public safety system and save millions of dollars. The City needs to make these decisions in short order, as funding is being requested of the mayor to include in the budget proposal. Among the requests is $1.8 million during the next two years to scope out the replacement of the 800 MHz system. The system is voice-only and used typically 104,000 times a day by first responders and other city workers.

The City also is intending to budget about $840,000 next fiscal year for the planned BayWEB system, which Oakland and San Jose have opted to not participate in due to cost concerns. That system would allow a dedicated communication frequency for the region’s emergency responders and could share data such as photos and building floor plans through smartphone-style devices.

The debate is far from over. The City’s advisory committee on technology, commonly referred to as COIT, will discuss the tech spending in the mayor’s budget May 2.

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