Sacramento Regional Radio Communications System Complaint # 99 - 34
While touring various emergency agencies in the County, the 1998-1999 Sacramento County Grand Jury discovered two serious operational issues with the radio system -- the Sacramento Regional Radio Communications System (SRRCS) -- that is supposed to allow those agencies to communicate with one another in the field. These shortcomings could endanger the safety of emergency service workers such as firefighters, sheriff's deputies and police officers, as well as the public.
The Grand Jury made further inquiries, meeting with representatives of the Sacramento Police Department, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, the Sacramento County Office of Communications and Information Technology (OCIT), the Sacramento Regional Fire/Emergency Medical Services Communications Center, and the City of Sacramento Fire Department, to try to clarify the issue of current emergency agency radio communications within the County.
According to OCIT, the SRRCS is a regional radio system designed to provide participating agencies, both inside and adjacent to Sacramento County, with a high-quality method of communication. The SRRCS was intended to provide countywide, two-way radio coverage for emergency agency employees using mobile and portable equipment.
The SRRCS evolved from a 1991 proposal -- the Countywide Trunked Radio System Project Proposal -- drafted by the Sacramento County Department of General Services. That proposal outlined the department's intent to rectify serious problems that existed with the radio system: Not enough channels, deteriorating reliability, and poor coverage, all contributing to inadequate interagency communications.
A body called the System Management Group (SMG), comprised of high-level city, county and fire district management, oversaw the design, construction and implementation of the SRRCS, which was completed in 1995.
The Grand Jury was told that, at the time this proposal was implemented, there was a crucial need for more radio channels. Accordingly, the SRRCS allowed for the then-current 21 channels to be expanded by 418, to 439 channels. (Sacramento County fire districts use 160 of these channels.)
The Grand Jury learned that the SRRCS is currently experiencing some problems. For example, downtown Sacramento's rapid growth means that the area now requires more antennas. They will have to be strategically placed within buildings under construction so that future radio signals will not be blocked by the area's density.
On the plus side, the Grand Jury learned that the OCIT has solved a parts supply problem and that it intends to make sure that the SRRCS is Y2K-compliant.
Findings and Recommendations
Finding #1: While adding more antennas corrected the systems communication problem, the Grand Jury is concerned that there remains a critical and as yet unaddressed need - the need for emergency personnel to communicate with one another in the field as they fight fires, pursue suspects and the like. Although a method - called "simplex" - of point-to-point, radio-to-radio communication that bypasses the antenna system exists, it is not being used effectively by personnel. The Grand Jury feels strongly that it is dangerous and indefensible for the City of Sacramento, the County of Sacramento and the fire districts within the County to allow their in-the-field "simplex" radio communications system to remain underused by emergency agency personnel.
Recommendation #1: The "simplex" channel needs to be reconfigured to be more easily accessed, and personnel should receive adequate training. A timetable, showing the dates by which the reprogramming and the training will be complete, shall be submitted to the Grand Jury.
Finding #2: The Grand Jury was told the radio channels used by the Sacramento County Department of Airport's fire control services are not compatible with those of the City of Sacramento Fire Department. The Airport fire personnel require fire engine companies responding to incidents at the Sacramento International Airport to switch to their channels, thus cutting off direct access back to the County's own emergency response personnel and services.
Recommendation #2: The Sacramento County Department of Airports should buy new radio equipment that will be compatible with the City of Sacramento's equipment, as well as the equipment used by the other fire districts within Sacramento County.
A Response is Required
The California Penal Code requires the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors to respond in writing to the Grand Jury's recommendations contained in this report, and to submit its responses to the presiding judge of the Sacramento Superior Court by September 30, 1999.