Grant expected to enhance emergency communications

Efforts to upgrade the town’s emergency communications system got a major boost this week when Gov. Dannel Malloy announced that Greenwich will receive a $245,000 grant for the project.

The money comes from a state fund known as the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) and goes to qualifying municipalities throughout the state that have populations under 65,000. The money will now be applied toward replacing key components of the town’s communications network, which is considered to be quickly falling behind other technology. However, since the full replacement of the 800-megahertz system with one that’s more modern will cost an estimated $16 million, this grant money will be able to take the town only a little bit closer to it while funding immediate improvements as well.

Under the new system, first responders throughout the entire region would be able to reach each other on a variety of frequencies, ensuring constant communication in a time of emergency. It would be able to have both 700- and 800-megahertz communications systems on it which would include all the municipalities and create what’s known as interoperable communications, where conceivably a cop assigned in Greenwich would be able to speak to a chief in Bridgeport, making it possible to coordinate a response to an emergency stretching over an entire region, not just one town like Greenwich.

 

This has long been a priority of Emergency Management Director Dan Warzoha. In addition to that role in town, Mr. Warzoha, a former fire chief in Greenwich, is chairman of the Region 1 Emergency Planning Team, responsible for an area that covers Greenwich and surrounding cities like Stamford and Bridgeport. He said that he and the planning team want a system that can “tie all the communities together.”

What this money will be able to do immediately, according to Mr. Warzoha is to replace a key part of the “backbone” of Greenwich’s emergency communications hardware for a system that is used by all police, fire and Greenwich Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) personnel as well as town departments like public works and parks and recreation. Mr. Warzoha said the money could not be used to buy new radios, but it can be used to replace critical infrastructure and it will be used for replacing microwave dishes used for communications. Mr. Warzoha said the current dishes are “antiquated” and had given the town difficulty in the past, most notably during the March 2010 nor’easter.

Making these upgrades with the dishes would allow the current system to become far more resilient and strengthen communication abilities while continuing to work toward the bigger goal of the whole system replacement. Mr. Warzoha envisions a “first of its kind” system that would link the 14 municipalities in southwestern Connecticut and also provide needed links to state and federal authorities if needed. Region 1 has already demonstrated best practices in terms of emergency response, and this is expected to help with that, which in turn can lead to federal grants that will help alleviate the cost for the full replacement for Greenwich.

“This grant is a very good jump-start,” Mr. Warzoha said.

Mr. Warzoha worked closely on advocating for this with town resident Joe Kaliko, who had previously been described as instrumental in working with Mr. Malloy to get a state deal to help with the funding for The Nathaniel Witherell’s Project Renew. At the behest of First Selectman Peter Tesei, Mr. Kaliko, a past president and current board member of the Cos Cob Fire Police Patrol, said he met with Mr. Warzoha to hear what priorities in public safety needed to be met.

In an interview with the Post, Mr. Kaliko said it quickly became apparent that radio communications were a major priority and that an improvement here would assist not just the town but the entire region because it would be better able to keep first responders in contact with each other in emergencies like extreme weather, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.

“To be able to have radios that can connect emergency officials throughout the region will allow for a far better coordinated response,” Mr. Kaliko said. “This is something that’s very important.”

The town could well have gotten nothing, and grants were awarded to Greenwich, Bethany and South Windsor, all for projects that would have applications in emergency situations. Awarding the money was entirely at Mr. Malloy’s discretion, and there had been heavy lobbying from the town’s delegation to the state legislature as well as from people like Mr. Kaliko, who said Mr. Malloy was very sympathetic to the need, given his experience as mayor of Stamford in upgrading the city’s emergency communications system.

“The three weather-related emergencies we’ve experienced over the last 15 months have made the need for a coordinated response at the state and municipal levels all the more important,” Mr. Malloy said in a press release announcing the grants. “The investments we’re announcing today will help these towns enhance their emergency response capabilities, while at same time allow them to move some really great projects forward.”

Both Mr. Warzoha and Mr. Kaliko have noted that a system like this is needed because Region 1, and Greenwich in particular, are in such a critical area. They pointed out the town’s proximity to New York City, the ports and the rail system, as well as the presence of major international banks and NASDAQ in Greenwich and Stamford. Because of all those factors, Greenwich could well be impacted heavily by a natural disaster, a terrorist attack or even a cyberattack, making communications absolutely critical.

Mr. Kaliko has often been an excellent link from Greenwich to the governor’s office. He headed Mr. Malloy’s transition team after he was first elected in 2010 and has advocated for state help on projects like this and The Witherell. But while he said he was quite happy to get the support for the improvements, Mr. Kaliko was quick to note that this is only a first step.

“I’m extremely pleased this is coming through for Greenwich,” Mr. Kaliko said. “But there’s only so much that the state can do. Ultimately we are going to have to reach into our own pockets. I’m very grateful that the governor did this, and I hope it’s a pump primer for the region.”

Currently the town is looking at the replacement of the system as a project for down the line. In this current year’s budget, the town is funding a $155,000 study that will evaluate potential replacement options, and a consultant is expected to be brought in as part of that. Once the options are in, Mr. Warzoha said, the town will have a better idea of how to proceed. While $16 million is currently the projected cost, that is actually expected to shrink once the options are presented.

“This study will allow us to see what all the options are,” Mr. Warzoha said. “I’m confident that once we have all of them on the table we will be able to determine what the best path is going forward.”

Greenwich’s state delegation said they were happy with the decision.

“Greenwich is very grateful for the state grant which will help fund the upgrade of critical life-safety communications systems for our emergency responders. It could not have come at a better time,” said state Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149th District).

State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st District) told the Post, “

“Receiving the $245,000 grant for communications upgrades for our fire, police, parks and recreation, and Public Works Departments is another important step in the continuing goal to protect our citizens. We live in an uncertain age and being prepared as well as having efficient and effective communication among all personnel is both reassuring and proactive.

Mr. Camillo offered “special thanks” to Mr. Kaliko whom he has worked with on several projects, including providing more protection for volunteer members of the emergency services departments.

“I also would like to point out the solid relationship between the Greenwich delegation and the state of Connecticut, whether it is the legislature or the governor,  Democrat or Republican,” Mr. Camillo said. “The residents of our town expect us to stand up for them and be their voice in Hartford, but they also  expect us to work together.”

State Rep. Lile Gibbons (R-150th District) also thanked Mr. Malloy for the grant and said it would be a great help in making sure the town was prepared for emergencies needing police and fire assistance, such as the recent Hurricane Sandy, which caused damage throughout the region.

Mr. Tesei thanked all the state representatives as well as state Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th District) for advocating on behalf of the grant. He also credited police Capt. Mark Kordick, Town Administrator John Crary, town Special Projects Manager Dustin Anderson, and Mr. Kaliko for their work in making this a reality and shared a few kind words for the governor.

“We did get something from the state, and when you get a gift you say thank you,” Mr. Tesei said.

Capt. Kordick and Mr. Anderson were the authors of the grant application itself and received praise from both Mr. Tesei and Ms. Floren.

 

[email protected]

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© Hersam Acorn. All rights reserved. The Greenwich Post, 10 Corbin Drive, Floor 3, Darien, CT 06820

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress