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December 14. 2012 2:32AM

Officials say radio system failing for Nashua emergency workers

NASHUA - With some police and fire crews using out of date portable radios, city officials are reviewing a long-term plan to potentially spend up to $10 million in communication upgrades.

"The radio system has never been upgraded, and the network infrastructure is operating on 1990s technology," said Bill Mansfield, radio systems manager for the city. "The radio network infrastructure is non-repairable."

During a public hearing on Thursday, Mansfield shared with the Board of Aldermen a proposed five-phase plan to remedy the aging system.

Aldermen are being asked to approve the first phase of the plan at a cost of $1.6 million.

The most important tool for a firefighter is not a hose, but a radio, said Mansfield. On occasion, city dispatchers lose the ability to receive emergency panic button alerts from firefighters or police officers, forcing them to use backup radio equipment that is not as useful, he said.

"Our communications system has shut down on about a half a dozen occasions in the past eight months," said Mayor Donnalee Lozeau.

It is a danger to firefighters, police and the public when communications break down, said Lozeau, adding it can be very frightening to emergency workers when this occurs.

The current radio system is about 12 years old. There are nearly 1,000 radios, including handheld radios and car radios, that are currently being used by various city departments such as police, fire, public works and schools.

A committee studying the communications system has determined an immediate need to replace the network infrastructure, Mansfield said.

He said Motorola has offered the city a savings of more than $500,000 and an extra year warranty if a deal can be finalized by the end of the year. Phase one includes replacement of the entire radio system network, while phases two through five involve replacing various radio channels and purchasing several new portable radios.

There are ways to reduce some costs if phases two through five are implemented simultaneously, he said. There was no public comment on the proposal to bond the first phase of the project, which totals $1.6 million. Aldermen had several questions about the recommended financing for a 10-year bond, which was originally suggested as a five-year bond.

"I would like to see your radio inventory citywide," said Alderman-at-Large David Deane, voicing concern that there may be too many radios and cellular telephones distributed throughout city departments.

Lozeau acknowledged that some radios could be eliminated and replaced with cell phones, explaining that is currently being assessed.

The full Board of Aldermen is expected to vote on the proposed $1.6 million bond later this month.

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Kimberly Houghton may be reached at khoughton@newstote.com.

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