The safety of Broward County residents is at the mercy of an outdated public safety radio system that has been limping along for years, while efforts to get a new system up and running are threatened by still more delays.
Police and fire-rescue couldn’t count on the current overloaded radio system when they responded to the Parkland school shooting in 2018 and the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting in 2017. Many deputies and police officers were unable to communicate with dispatch during the shootings. Some turned to hand signals to communicate with each other at the mass-casualty scenes.
The county has promised a new system will be in place by the end of the year, but there’s still a lot of work left to put the new $59.5 million radio system in operation.
Commissioners voted Tuesday to place one of the needed 325-foot towers in West Lake Park — a protected natural area popular for kayaking and family outings — over the objections of city officials and nearby residents.
“This is not going to ruin the park. Your children are still going to be able to play there. The birds are still going to be able to fly there,” Commissioner Michael Udine said.
The commission vote was 8-1, the minimum needed to override restrictions on how the park property can be used, with Commissioner Beam Furr, whose district includes the area, opposed. The county will still need to get permits from the city for the tower, have the actual construction take place and link the tower to the countywide system.
And it’s not the only site where work remains.
Construction has not started yet on at least four new towers that are planned to support the new radio system. That includes in Tamarac, where the county is still waiting on permits even though city commissioners reluctantly gave the green light to put a tower there more than eight months ago.
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The county’s inability to move faster has irritated members of the state’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, set up to look into the February 2018 Parkland high school shooting that killed 17 and wounded 17 others.
Commission members have said the new system is critically needed.
They threatened to subpoena Tamarac officials last year over their reluctance to allow the tower before the city acquiesced. The city has since approved the zoning and site plan but is still reviewing the permit application, city spokeswoman Elise Boston said.
Tracy Jackson, the county’s emergency management director, said consultants still say the county radio system can meet its 2019 target if there are no additional delays.
“There’s definitely some concern on the staff side,” Jackson said. Officials have said tower construction takes about four months.
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Commissioners heard again from Hollywood residents and officials who want the needed antenna placed on top of the Circ, a high-rise downtown apartment building and hotel. Commissioners initially sided with the residents, but they changed their position in April when a consultant’s report said the Circ site would cost more, take longer and not provide the same quality reception as the West Lake Park site.
The city responded with a new report from a consultant it hired, which contradicts the county report. It said the Circ site would provide better protection to the radio system in the event of a hurricane or other disaster. It is further away from the coast line, where storm surge could effect the West Lake Park site, the report said.
Hollywood consultant Gerald Zadikoff said information showing the Circ project could be done faster and at a comparable cost was “intentionally disregarded” in the county report “in order to sway the decision in favor of building a new tower.”
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Jackson said the county is facing pressure to get the new system completed.
“If you have enough time, if you have enough money, you could do anything. We have neither,” Jackson said.
In her response, County Administrator Bertha Henry said “recommendations that require additional studies and time delays for a project that is seriously behind schedule is not acceptable.”
https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-ne-broward-communication-towers-face-delays-20190507-dqkg4gccmzhs7cyea4lxmpcswu-story.htmlradio system delay