Project boosts regional emergency links

Four towers will be erected in and around Gilroy as part of a $29 million system that enhances cross-agency communication between first responders throughout Santa Clara County.

GILROY—Gilroy will soon join other Santa Clara County cities in an expanded, regional system of high-tech radio communications that links first responders, law enforcement agencies and the area’s largest transit agency.
In all, 31 radio towers will be erected for the new system by the end of 2018, including four in and around Gilroy, at a cost of nearly $29 million.
Seventeen participating agencies—including 11 cities—will pay for the system, and Gilroy’s share over the next three years is $844,000. The city of San Jose and county will pay the largest shares, at more than $7.6 million and $5.9 million, respectively. Morgan Hill will contribute $376,000 over that same period.
Regional radio ability will be boon to cross-agency communications, according to Gilroy Police Department Capt. Joseph Deras.
“It will allow us to communicate with any agency in Santa Clara County,” he said, adding officers using dual-band radios will be able to talk with sheriff’s deputies, other law enforcement agencies and the Valley Transportation Authority.
Councilman Peter Leroe-Munoz is the city’s representative on the Silicon Valley Regional Interoperability Authority, a joint powers board that put together the proposal.
“We’re trying to make sure that all of the county’s law enforcement (agencies) can talk to one another in the event of a natural disaster, like a wildfire or an earthquake, but also a larger criminal action…like a terrorist attack or something that spans multiple jurisdictions. It makes sure we have the ability to talk to each other,” Leroe-Munoz told the Dispatch.
To take full advantage of the system, the Gilroy police and fire departments must purchase hundreds of radios, both handheld and vehicle-mounted, and their charging stations or batteries, at additional expense.
Over the next two years, the city is slated to spend $736,000 on 197 new radios, according to Deras. Those purchases will be included in the city’s capital improvements budget.
The regional system already is active in northern Santa Clara County and towers will be erected in South County in early 2016, Leroe-Munoz said.
The priority will be to flesh out the system prior to February 2016, when the National Football League will hold Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, he added.
With the influx of thousands of attendees, cities across the county are already coordinating their reaction plans and preparing how law enforcement and first responders will deal with medical emergencies, criminal activity and more.
Leroe-Munoz, a former San Benito County deputy district attorney, said he’s confident the Garlic Capital’s participation in the regional network will increase safety for police officers and residents.
“I am positive that giving our officers as much information as possible will keep them safer and it will keep the community safer,” Leroe-Munoz said. “They will know exactly who or what they’re dealing with and have the information to figure out what the best response is in dealing with that person or situation.”
As it stands now, the information police have about suspects isn’t always up to date, he added. Gilroy police can come across someone who may have a lengthy criminal record of violence in another city, but the officers might not know that, Leroe-Munoz said
“It’s vitally important officers have a complete picture of who it is they’re stopping,” he said.
Gilroy’s communications system also will have increased levels of redundancy, which will reduce the chances of an act of vandalism or domestic terrorism crippling first responders’ ability to talk to each other, added Deras.
A few years ago, the city’s cabling system was vandalized, he said.
“Now, we’ll have dual protection with the (current) 150mHz and (new) 700 MHz systems should something like that occur again down the road,” the police captain added.

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