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Editorial: City should jump on cellular solution

Original post made on Jun 29, 2012

The City Council has an opportunity to end the often divisive neighborhood fights over installation of small cell phone antennas by simply making space available to install much larger and more powerful antennas at a few city-owned utility substations, and even one on the roof of City Hall.

Read the full editorial here Web Link posted Friday, June 29, 2012, 10:51 AM

Comments (8)

Posted by David , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2012 at 11:25 am

City Council: PLEASE DO NOT OVERLOOK THE POOR CELLULAR COVERAGE IN THE FOOTHILLS. Most cellular phone, except for Verizon, have very poor coverage west of Hwy 280. Verizon still has significant dead spots. With a good percentage of the city in the foothills all the way up to Skyline Blvd, please do not leave us in the dark ages.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Most emergency responders rely heavily on cell phones. If you do not have cell coverage where you live, like the Foothills, then your emergency responders will also not have coverage. This could be a huge problem if there is a large fire in the Foothills with multiple agencies responding and limited radio bands available to them.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2012 at 7:41 am

> If you do not have cell coverage where you live, like the Foothills,
> then your emergency responders will also not have coverage.

This issue of (effectively) tactical emergency communications is one that the public expects those employed in the public safety side of the public sector to engage, and solve. While the use of local cell phone service is one obvious solution, so is the use of Satellite Phones (SatPhones):


Satellite Phones:
Web Link

Vorizon Satellite Phones:
Web Link

GPS-enabled SatPhones:
Web Link

This is another of those situations where having a regionalized public safety "force" makes more sense that these small, localized, police and fire departments, which are not likely to have the personnel who are not provided the time, and funding, to keep abreast of all of the latest advances in voice/data communications.

Moreover, if people up in "the hills" are having cellphone service issues, there is no reason that they shouldn't shift to Satphones, even if there is additional cost involved. Public safety only goes so far--then your personal safety depends on you.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 30, 2012 at 8:13 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Be aware that the sat phone system is easily overloaded and usually unavailable in a major emergency. Emergency crews sent to Katrina had no cell phone coverage and all the sat phones lines were tied up 24/7 by the news networks. New cell phone channels reserved exclusively for emergency providers will help but they still require cell phone coverage.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2012 at 8:17 am

The micro transmitters use less power and require your cellphone to radiate less power. The neighborhoods may object to them but more micro towers is a better alternative to three huge towers or macro towers at electric substations.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 30, 2012 at 10:00 am

> Sat Phones susceptible to congestion
Web Link

Where large scale disasters are concerned, this has proven true in the past. For small scale emergencies, such as a fire in "the Hills", it's hard to believe that the small number of additional calls that emergency crews would generate would overwhelm the current service.

However, this point again reinforces the need to regionalize various aspects of the public safety communications network. While there is on-going work to do this, all of the issues have not been resolved, and may not for some time to come.

There have been a number of suggestions made, here and there, that even Federal support, in terms of a national communications grid, complete with both communications satellites, with terrain-sensing capabilities (read fire detection), should be provided to the states, particularly those (like California) which has a lot of forestation, and is sparsely populated in some places. Unfortunately, nothing much has materialized along those lines.

Certainly expanding the capacity for emergency use of SatPhones would be one of the needs that such an effort would provide.

We also need to begin to see cell phones as a defined part of the public safety infrastructure. That creates a certain set of problems, since the public process tends to get in the way of effective delivery of services. However, if/when Cities develop emergency plans, the security of the cellular/wireless data communications networks need to be included in these plans.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 30, 2012 at 11:21 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"For small scale emergencies, such as a fire in "the Hills", it's hard to believe that the small number of additional calls that emergency crews would generate would overwhelm the current service."

The small fire in the Oakland hills did overwhelm the communications system even before it became a big fire.

Santa Clara County would do well to fo;;ow San Mateo County with its single fire dispatch for all fire agencies and a true county-wide communication system with common frequencies. Menlo Park fire just installed a hardened state of the art communication 100 ft communication tower at its East Palo Alto station.

"19 June 2012
Hello Directors

As you can see by the attached photograph, the monopole communications mast at Fire Station 2 was installed on the site this morning. Perhaps not beautiful to some, to me it is a site for sore eyes and represents a significant step forward in strengthening our critical communications backbone. The work at the site is starting to show the real picture of what our shared vision of the future and a resilient and modernized emergency facility looks like.

The emergency generator, above ground diesel fuel tank, hardened communications building and 100 foot communications mast is above the 500 year flood plain. Should we ever have a flood or earthquake these items and systems should provide us with the proper tools to effectively serve the community during disaster or for normal day to day operations for many years to come.

I'm proud to say it is happening on our watch and thank you again for approving this important community service enhancement project. During Hurricane Katrina I passed several critical emergency facilities that were under water and inoperable. What we are building is truly state of the art and we need to duplicate this same model at Fire Stations 1 and 4 to a lesser degree so that we invest the communities resources in making sure that critical infrastructure is modernized and resilient so that it works for us when we need it most during any emergency.

I think we all have a lot to be proud of as an organization and again thank you for the opportunity as the Fire Chief and former Team Leader for Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3 to put my background, experiences and skills to good use in helping to shape and fill our needs on this backbone project.


Sincerely

Harold Schapelhouman, Fire Chief"


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 30, 2012 at 1:19 pm

> The small fire in the Oakland hills did overwhelm the
> communications system even before it became a big fire.

Web Link

Oakland was also not able to communicate with many mutual aid resources due to antiquated equipment and lack of access to statewide radio frequencies brought on by the budget restrictions in the preceding years.
---

The communications system that was "overwhelmed", was, if memory serves, a radio system that was to be used by public sector public safety people. There was a similar failure during the Loma Prieta Quake (1989_, when the public safety people had to commandeer at least one large radio station's frequency (and maybe their equipment) in order to communicate around the Bay Area.

The problems Oakland experienced were, in large part, caused by Oakland. On the other hand, the lack of a "regionalized/coordinated" public safety response can not be placed on Oakland's shoulders alone.

This leaves the fundamental question, even today, do the so-called public safety people really have their act together, when it comes to "coordinated emergency response"?

All communications channels have a finite capacity. They can not carry more than their limiting load. Shifting to a "packetized" system increases the number of simultaneous voice communications that a given frequency range can handle, but this too has a natural limit. Who, in the greater Bay Area, has a list of all of the public/private communications channels, including their capacities? If the answer is no one, this is another reason to press for "regionalization" of various public safety functions.

When we look at the Palo Alto City Council, which of the elected Council Members is likely to demonstrate a basic understanding of these sorts of issues, and provide leadership to further the cause of increased cooperation among neighboring public safety agencies, and possibly, merging to decrease organizational overhead, cost, and increase the level of public safety offered for more-of-less the same, or fewer, dollars?




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