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New London - Contractors are on the roof and digging into the walls of the New London Police Department this month to install wiring and antennas as part of a $2.38 million investment in a radio communication system overhaul.
It's part of the groundwork for a joint venture in which New London police, fire and other departments will use Waterford's infrastructure and more advanced 800 megahertz digital communications network.
In advance of federal narrow-banding radio requirements, the City Council last year weighed the option of upgrading the city's own aging system. Instead, the council opted to go with Waterford, which already had invested millions in technology that not only allows improved coverage but also enhances interoperability, said project manager Tammy Daugherty, New London's director of planning and development.
Waterford's system allows dispatchers, with the flick of a switch, to connect police, fire and other users in "talking groups," who are able to communicate without interfering with other groups.
Each municipality will retain its emergency dispatch centers, though talks about a shared system between the two, along with East Lyme, continue.
Daugherty said the purchase and installation of the equipment and accompanying training are occurring simultaneously this month in hopes the system will be up and running by June. The City Council on April 15 approved the $2.38 million emergency appropriation. It is bonded money and part of the public safety capital projects fund, according to city records.
New London signed a contract with Waterford through 2018 with annual maintenance fees based on a $279.92 cost per user. The current cost estimate for fiscal year 2013-14, based on 335 users annually, is $93,773. The total annual maintenance contract with Harris Co. for the two towns is $209,099.
New London Police Deputy Chief Peter Reichard said emergency dispatch consoles are being installed, about 80 new mobile radios will be passed out, and about 30 vehicles will be outfitted in the coming weeks.
Reichard said he expects "communications are going to be flawless between our two towns."
"We're confident it will be what we need for the future," Reichard said. "The high-band ... radios have better capabilities."
Once the police department is done, installation in fire department vehicles will begin.
"From my perspective, because of the age of the old system, I think we'll be better off from an emergency services standpoint," New London Fire Chief Henry Kydd said.
An added feature, Kydd said, is the ability to identify each individual radio user - a feature that could be extremely helpful in the event of a firefighter emergency.
The system also comes in handy for regional responses or special events like Sailfest since talk groups can be added or deleted without affecting normal fire or police operations, he said.
Waterford Police Sgt. Steve Bellos said Waterford has invested $6.8 million on the Harris P25 system and has built five sites across town with towers and antennas. Once online, Bellos said, the system immediately offered service in some former dead spots, something New London also hopes to achieve. The Waterford system was approved in 2007 and went online in April 2010.
"We built the system with the intention (of) not necessarily looking at regionalization, but sharing with other municipalities around us," Bellos said.