No More ‘Bubblegum, Tape’ for 911 System

With the Town of East Hampton’s emergency communication systems “poised to collapse,” the Police Department’s communications technician detailed a $425,000 change order to the town board on Tuesday, which he said would cover various items discovered to be substandard or left out of the initial proposal from Motorola, the telecommunications company that is providing the equipment. 

Ed Schnell told the board that the existing system, which is used by police, all of the fire departments and ambulance companies, town bus drivers, Highway Department workers, Parks and Recreation staff, and others, came online around 20 years ago. “There’s no spare parts available, and it’s currently held together with bubblegum and tape,” he said. Worse, the present five-channel communications system, which accommodates four channels for talking, is inadequate during crises, such as the fire that destroyed the Sag Harbor Cinema in 2016, he said. 

At police headquarters in Wainscott, engineers determined that the existing 54-foot-tall tower is not tall enough for a clear link between it and the tower behind Town Hall, Mr. Schnell said. It must be 85 feet tall, which will require orange and white stripes and a steady red light atop it to comply with Federal Aviation Administration requirements. 

“We’re unsure right now, until we get the engineer’s report, whether we’re going to be able to bolt 30 feet to the top or bolt 30 feet to the bottom, or if we’re going to be able to reuse the foundation and just put a new metal pole on,” he said. “In any case, it will be in the same spot and serve the same purpose.” A new subpanel in the radio equipment room will also be installed.

Old and unused antennas and lines on a tower north of East Hampton Airport will be removed to free up space and allow the Police Department “to take advantage of the best space we have with the new system,” Mr. Schnell said. Unused antennas and lines will also be removed from the tower at Town Hall “to reduce load and clean up the mess of cables,” he said, and a subpanel in its radio equipment room is also needed. Internal grounding must also be brought up to standard. 

In Noyac, at a site leased from the Town of Southampton, a 12-by-10-foot building must be replaced along with antennas and lines on a tower in order to reach the new building’s location. Additionally, training and items erroneously thought to be accounted for, including software options essential for the system to function, must be procured, Mr. Schnell said. 

An additional $250,000 will be needed to bring the tower at the recycling and transfer station in Montauk, which is “way overloaded,” to current loading standards. It will be strengthened, not replaced, he said. Its attendant shelter must be replaced, though, as its roof is leaking and the entire structure is rusted. “It’s actually cheaper to replace the entire building than it is to rehab it,” he said. 

The new digital Motorola system will increase capacity from four “talk paths” to 12, “which should free us from the ‘system busy’ issue we have,” Mr. Schnell said, and upgrade the system to federal public-safety standards. 

The town’s capital budget calls for spending a total of $5 million for the emergency communications system during 2018 and 2019.