BOS Moves Closer to State Plan for $3.7-$4.2 Million Emergency Communication System Upgrade

A Wilton Fire Department photo of a Norwalk fire emergency when Wilton provided aid (source: www.wiltonct.org)

At last night’s Nov. 16 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting, Board members reviewed multiple options for a plan to upgrade the Town’s aged and deteriorating emergency communications system.

Needs assessment and planning for the required upgrades to the communications system used by multiple town departments and emergency services has been in process for over two years.

With a system that is at the end of a 20-year life expectancy, has frequent system failures, and often experiences limited operability, there was agreement among all the public safety departments that it was time to replace and enhance what the Town uses.

A joint recommendation was made to the BOS by the Wilton Police DepartmentWilton Fire DepartmentWilton Volunteer Ambulance Corp., Public Works Department and Parks and Recreation Department for a plan to utilize a state system known as the Connecticut Land Mobile Radio Network (CLMRN).

Three Options Considered

During the meeting, Wilton Police Captain Tom Conlan gave a presentation outlining the current system’s deficiencies and three potential solutions that could be considered.

Essentially, the Town has a choice between replacing its current system or opting to join the state network, CLMRN.

There would be some advantages of maintaining local control of the system. The Town would own the system and would be able to make its own decisions on the specific equipment, maintenance and support plans that would be needed over time.

Conlon presented two options for a Town-managed system. Both would be an improvement over the current system, but one would have additional enhancements including a fifth radio communication tower site (over the current four) and improved coverage areas.

Even with enhancements, the local option is less expensive than the state’s CLRMN — potentially by several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Although the state CLRMN program is considerably more expensive, it would have numerous advantages over a Town-administered system. According to Conlon’s presentation, those advantages include:

  • Wide coverage area both in Wilton and with mutual aid partners
  • Improved mutual aid and fire ground capabilities for the Wilton Fire Department
  • Interoperability between units in the field with other agencies
  • Considerable upgrade to DPW and Parks and Grounds communication capabilities
  • Allows for future system enhancements, with the ability to have multiple talk groups
  • Enhanced interoperability and redundancy
  • State-assisted supervision and maintenance of communications system with 24/7 monitoring by CTS (the statewide emergency telecommunications system)
  • Lifecycle infrastructure support (required) with upgrades every two years; no significant future system overhaul
  • Includes site upgrades at the Town’s Deer Run and Transfer Station sites (new generator at the Deer Run site as well as building upgrades at both sites)
  • Centralized, state management of portable radio units
  • Meets street-level Delivered Audio Quality (DAQ) of 3.4
  • Number of sites maintained by Wilton reduced from four to two

Several nearby towns, including Wilton’s “mutual aid” partners, have decided to join or are considering the state system. From an interoperability standpoint, that’s where CLRMN becomes particularly valuable for Wilton’s emergency departments.

The CLMRN option will cost between roughly $3.7 million and $4.2 million.

Wilton Emergency Services Communications Replacement Project, presentation to BOS, Nov. 16, 2021

Federal Grants Will Pick Up The Bill

The initial cost of the communications system will be covered by funding from two federal sources.

“We’re fortunate we have so many grants to pay for this,” Vanderslice said.

First, $983,000 in grant money is earmarked for the system in the federal budget (not yet approved).

The balance of the system cost will be covered by the $5.4 million Wilton received under the American Rescue Plan, which Biden signed into law earlier this year.

Of note, while the initial cost of CLMRN is higher than the other options considered, it would have lower annual maintenance costs after Year 1.

Wilton Emergency Services Communications Replacement Project, presentation to BOS, Nov. 16, 2021

Consensus Across Departments

Wilton Fire Department Chief Jim Blanchfield said he felt the state system will improve conditions “substantially.” He described a number of emergency scenarios when interoperability is a critical factor.

“We rely heavily on mutual aid when there are significant events in town,” Blanchfield said. “This system from our standpoint is a vast improvement, both operationally and system-wide for us. There’s a lot of smaller details that benefit us as well.”

Police Chief John Lynch added his approval. “This is covering five services in town, especially the emergency services. We’re trying to catch up for decades on the lack of interoperability since 9/11. By far, this state system suits the town’s needs.”

Following discussion, the BOS voted unanimously to authorize Conlon to further explore the CLMRN option, including firming up price estimates.

Correction: The story has been edited to show that one of the potential grants would come from the federal budget and not the recently signed infrastructure bill.

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