New regional emergency communication system plan draws critics 

click to enlarge Supervisor John Avalos expressed concerns about the cost of the $100 million communication network known as BayWEB. - EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Examiner file photo
  • Supervisor John Avalos expressed concerns about the cost of the $100 million communication network known as BayWEB.

A planned $100 million regional emergency communication system is one step closer to approval despite concerns about costs and the need for a $65 million overhaul of a separate emergency radio system.

San Francisco hopes to partner with other cities to roll out a $100 million communication network known as BayWEB. Public safety workers would use the network to share information such as photographs and building plans in real time. The system is currently not capable of voice communication.

The City’s Budget and Finance Committee advanced the proposal to the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday but didn’t recommend its approval. Supervisors John Avalos and Jane Kim expressed concerns about the costs.

“I’m actually very uncomfortable with this item,” Avalos said. “I just feel it’s a bit of a tail wagging a dog.”

The project is partly funded with a $50 million federal grant as part of a national effort to set up such systems after the 9/11 attacks.

The big costs will be the purchase of radios and in-vehicle modems or computers and a $43-per-month charge per user. It’s unknown how many first responders would use it.

The City also maintains a radio system for 10 city departments such as police, fire and sheriff, but can’t communicate with other cities. Officials also plan to replace that system at a cost of $65 million.

“Why do we need two systems?” asked Anne Kronenberg, executive director of the Department of Emergency Management. “The BayWEB system is a digital data system at this point. So you can share texts and photos, video, graphics over the system. It is for regional communications.”

The proposal would require approval by the full Board of Supervisors, which is expected to vote on it Tuesday.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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