Council receives report on radio and fiber study

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By Jennifer Garcia

Emergency services, such as those offered by the fire department and police department, are often taken for granted.

People never really question what they’d do without them because most assume they’re services that will always be there.

But suppose for a minute that the police and fire departments lost radio service and were no longer able to communicate with one another.

What would happen then?

That’s a question that was posed during the last council meeting when councilors discussed the county radio and fiber infrastructure study.

County IT Manager Laura Gonzales gave council a briefing on the study before turning the presentation over to representatives from Crestino Telecommunications Services.

Gonzales told council that in July 2008, the funds for the study became available and the study actually began a couple of months later, in September.

“$550,000 was allocated for the project, but less than half has been used to date,” Gonzales said.

According to county documents, the county analog-based system currently being used is aging and failing. Additionally, increased functionality for digital data transfer continues to rise.

Currently, the police and fire departments use the LANL radio system and the remainder of the county departments use the analog system, which is managed out of Public Works.

On March 18, 2008 council requested a conceptual design study on a new radio system, to replace the aging analog system and a complete fiber backbone design throughout Los Alamos County.

The design for the radio system was to take into account both two-way (voice) and data radio communications throughout Los Alamos.

The fiber study was to expand on the current county fiber backbone plan to create a robust fiber design that would meet current and future county needs.

While the designs for both systems are specifically for county government purposes, the design needed to provide future flexibility.

Currently the county is reviewing advanced communications technology on two fronts: A wireless radio network and a fiber optic network. Each of these options has been examined for county government use only and optional community use (for economic development).

The effort resulted in two network design studies. The first is a wireless voice and data plan that would include: A two-way digital voice radio system; a high-speed broadband network; and a microwave radio ring topology for redundancy.

The second is a conceptual design study for a fiber optic network expansion that includes: A county fiber network for county use only; and an option community fiber network.

The radio sites would support both voice and broadband data. Primary radio sites would also support microwave ring for voice and broadband data backhaul.

The four primary sites for the 80-foot self-support tower are: Lavy Lane, Pajarito Mountain, the Barranca water tank and the White Rock Fire Station.

The five secondary sites are: The Airport Basin, Totavi water tanks, Tesuque Peak, Guaje Canyon water tank and Pajarito West.

Crestino Telecommunications Services Representatives Herman Baca, Eric Rogers, Mark Jenkins and Toby Johnson all spoke to council regarding the study and explained to them how the proposed plans would work and pointed out the faults in the existing system.

Jenkins began his portion of the presentation by explaining to council that there is currently three main components to the existing system: voice radio which is used by the police and fire departments for voice communication; broadband wireless that allows data to be transmitted wirelessly; and a microwave system that connects the system together. He also pointed out that Los Alamos National Laboratory owns the current system.

Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer asked Jenkins whether there were problems with the fire and police departments using the LANL system.

“A couple of times the system went down on the weekend and was not fixed until Monday,” Jenkins responded.

He also said that the only radio tower site that LANL has is located on Pajarito Mountain.

“In the winter, there’s a problem with snow, etc. The secondary sites are fill-in sites and those areas are pretty difficult to present,” he continued.

Assistant County Administrator Diana Stepan also spoke out about the current system. “The police department are guests on the LANL system. There’s no guarantee that someday we may lose that,” she said. “Public Works is on a separate system and we supplement that with cell phones,” she continued.

Wismer, a LANL employee, seemed to become irritated following Stepan’s comments and lashed out, saying that the assumption that LANL will simply discontinue service to the police and fire departments is wrong. “I work with this day in and day out and the lab is just not going to pull the system,” he said.

Stepan defended her comments, saying that she was not suggesting that LANL would leave the county “high and dry.” “It’s about how much control we want to have over our system,” she said.

Jenkins also told council that outdoor coverage and in-vehicle coverage should be satisfactory, but coverage inside buildings is spotty.

Baca said that his team looked at the entire county and mapped it out in an effort to make the system better for its users.

“We were asked to design a county fiber network, so the report is a design study of how it would look, the cost of it, etc.,” Rogers commented.

Following various questions posed by councilors to the Crestino team, the public was allowed to comment.

Former Council Chair Jim Hall told how he felt about the report and the study.

“I believe that inexpensive high speed telephone service will be the key to infrastructure for companies in the future,” he said.

He pointed out that except for the fire and police departments, cell phones are servicing most county departments. He suggested that the council look at cell phones and air cards as a means of communications for those departments.

“This has to be coordinated carefully with the lab. I suggest the county look at a phased system,” he said.

Former councilor Ken Milder was also present and spoke out during the public comment period. He said he agreed with everything that Hall said and urged council to look at the risks.

“Part of the risks are doing nothing,” he said. He also pointed out that public safety, economic development and lifestyle should also be looked at.

No action was taken, however, the topic will come before council once again at a later date.