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Nov 18, 2009 1:53 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Southampton Village 911 system suffers failures

Nov 18, 2009 1:53 PM

The “antiquated” communications equipment being used by Southampton Village’s emergency dispatchers has failed three times in recent months and could do so again at any time, Southampton Village Police Chief William Wilson said this week.

A lightning strike on the Village Police Department headquarters on Windmill Lane over the summer caused one of the failures and ignited a small electrical fire in one of the communications panels that needs to be replaced, the chief said. And, although the chief said he does not have the exact dates of the incidents, twice since then dispatchers have sent “tones”—signals that direct emergency response teams—out through the equipment that were not broadcast to emergency workers’ radios.

The failures, which the chief reported to the Village Board at its meeting on Thursday, November 12, are evidence of the need to replace the equipment, he said. To ensure the public’s safety, Chief Wilson is proposing that the village upgrade the system at a cost of about $250,000.

“If the equipment fails, we can’t communicate with the fire department, the ambulance, or the police department, and we can’t provide assistance to the public,” Chief Wilson said while making his case at last week’s board meeting. “That’s just the bottom line.”

The equipment in question is used to dispatch the Southampton Village Police Department, fire department and volunteer ambulance corps. It is separate from the 911 system—dispatchers receive 911 calls from the public on a separate system.

Because Southampton Village is a designated Suffolk County primary answering point, all 911 calls made within the village go immediately to police headquarters, Chief Wilson explained. That slashes emergency agencies’ response times, because dispatchers know the local Southampton Village area and which departments cover it. Suffolk County replaced all of the village’s 911 equipment in May, Chief Dispatcher Wayne Petry said.

Still, if the equipment used for dispatching emergency crews to the locations they are needed fails again and dispatchers cannot direct workers to emergency scenes, the public could be in danger, Chief Wilson said.

Mayor Mark Epley, who said that he’s known about the problem for about the last six months, said Tuesday that he has recently spoken with the village’s financial advisor about issuing a five-year bond to cover the cost of the new panels. “It’s a priority,” he said.

At last Thursday’s meeting, at least one Village Board member questioned the cost of the project, which is coming at the same time the village is working on a $5.9 million project for the fire department, and beginning plans for a new headquarters for the Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

“This is all good, and all necessary, but how are we paying for it?” asked Village Trustee Richard Yastrzemski.

The Southampton Town Police Department serves as the backup for the village if communications equipment fails, and vice versa, according to the chief.

The recent failures of the system aren’t the only problem plaguing the village’s dispatchers. There are also multiple “dead spots” where the village’s transmissions can’t reach, meaning there are places where emergency crew radios cannot communicate with the dispatchers system, Chief Wilson said.

So, replacing the communications panels is only the first part of a larger infrastructure upgrade the dispatch department needs, Chief Wilson said. He would ultimately like to build a communications tower on village property on North Magee Street in order to create better radio signals for the village fire, police, and ambulance departments.

The dead spots are along Meadow Lane and Wickapogue Road, Chief Wilson said. Emergency workers sent there have to use their personal cell phones to reach base. “But they shouldn’t have to do that,” Chief Wilson said.

Constructing a tower could cost as much as $1 million, Chief Wilson said. But the tower is integral to improving radio communications for the police department, fire department and volunteer ambulance corps and eliminating the dead spots.

New communications panels will not remedy the dead spot problem, Chief Wilson said.

The antennas currently affixed to the roof of police headquarters do not cover the entire village, Mr. Petry said. The position of the antenna, as well as the headquarters’ metal roof, may be causing the poor radio signals, said Chief Wilson, and there are already three tactical receivers meant to boost radio signals strategically located throughout the village.

The mayor suggested that the village find a cell phone company looking to expand its coverage on the South Fork to build the tower. The village police department, and other local emergency services agencies, could then place antennae on the tower, he explained.

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Well, communications antennas should not have been installed on the roof of the police station in the first place. They belong on a tower 150 feet or higher. Poor initial design to say the least! If the mayor and village board have been aware of this problem for several months, it's about time they either s**t or get off the pot!
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Nov 19, 09 11:05 PM
How can you have an antiquated radio communications system in a new state of the art police station that was built in 2003?

Why not take all the radio equipment out of the mobile command post and relocate it in police headquarters? This will save $250,000.00. The mobile command post is parked behind the police station and is never used.

Every Southampton Village police care has a computer with the ability to communicate to headquarters and other police cars over a network. This ...more
By RonDo (33), Southampton on Nov 20, 09 10:15 AM
1 member liked this comment