High-tech boost for public safety 

Communication among public safety workers in the Bay Area is about to go high tech.

On Wednesday, it was announced that the Bay Area received a $50 million grant from the federal government to embark on a new broadband communications system — the most-cutting-edge technology for public safety in the event of major disasters.

The new system, which will take three years to build, uses the 700MHz spectrum, recently vacated by television stations, according to the Mayor’s Office.

The system will allow fire, police and other public safety officials to transmit information more quickly and efficiently, during both day-to-day operations and major emergencies.

The broadband applications mean firefighters and police can easily view the layout of a burning building before entering it or transmit video images from an accident scene, Newsom said.

The new system connects the 10 Bay Area counties, which as of now cannot use radio connections seamlessly among departments.

“When there is a major incident, manmade or natural, the first thing that goes down are landlines,” Newsom said. “You take for granted the ability for public safety personnel to communicate with one another in The City, let alone outside The City.”

The $70 million system is part of a larger regional effort to update all communications, including radio, among public safety departments throughout the Bay Area, said Laura Adleman, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

As evidenced during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City, firefighters and other public safety personnel could not communicate within their own city limits, she said.

In San Francisco, all agencies use the same radio communications, making it possible to talk with one another. But if you go outside The City, that communication becomes spotty, Adleman said.

“If we had to go to Oakland for an incident, it would be difficult to communicate,” she said.

The system, dubbed BayWEB, is a public-private partnership between Bay Area public safety agencies and Motorola, which is kicking in 25 percent of the cost for the system. 

“As this project will be regionally focused, we will be able to communicate more effectively with other emergency operation departments to provide better service to our citizens during significant, natural and intentional incidents,” police Chief George Gascón said.

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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