San Francisco backs disaster system despite host of questions 

click to enlarge A regional emergency communications network is planned to only be used by public safety workers to share information such as building plans in real time. - GETTY IMAGES
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  • A regional emergency communications network is planned to only be used by public safety workers to share information such as building plans in real time.

Concerns about unknown costs and system redundancies did not stop San Francisco officials from moving forward Tuesday with supporting a $100 million emergency communications network for the Bay Area.

With a federal grant and matching funds from Motorola, the envisioned network must be operational by July 2013. And two-thirds of the $50 million grant must be spent by this July.

The Board of Supervisors approved in a 9-1 vote — Supervisor David Campos was absent — a 12-year agreement with Motorola for about 16 antenna sites throughout The City that would help create the regional network. The system would only be used by public safety workers to share information such as photographs and building plans in real time. Upon rollout, it would not be capable of voice communication, but the hope is to change that one day.

Despite Tuesday’s move, The City is still planning to pay for two other emergency radio systems worth tens of millions of dollars — one is for Muni and the other is an overhaul of the current push-to-talk radio system used by police and other first responders.

“I’m still not convinced that we need the system. I get why it’s a nice thing to have,” said Supervisor Jane Kim, who voted against the contract. She said the process was flawed since The City was forced to act under deadlines set by the federal government. Kim also was critical of how Motorola was selected without a competitive bidding process.

The network infrastructure would be paid for through grant funding, but San Francisco would pay about $260,000 annually for the antenna sites and staffing. The unknown cost is the purchase of radios and in-vehicle modems or computers, and a $43-per-month charge for each user.

“Our city doesn’t have a good track record on getting our complicated IT projects done,” said Board President David Chiu, who is concerned about cost overruns with the network.  

Anne Kronenberg, executive director of the Department of Emergency Management, said costs to The City could likely be managed within departments’ current spending on telecommunications as they phase out older equipment.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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