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Tower sites for public safety?

Kate Bernier
Wednesday June 26, 2002

To the Editor: 

What looms “grim” and “ghastly” over Berkeley these days? Not Edgar 

Allan Poe's ‘Raven,’ but rather Berkeley's new Public Safety (or police) Tower, with its potentially damaging microwave emissions. While these emissions, like Poe's 'Raven,' continue their “wandering from the nightly shore,” where will all the money come from to determine just how harmful they may be? 

The City of Berkeley is still trying to figure out whether to give the Macro Corporation the $43,000 it has asked for to study ‘field strengths’ around tower sites. But why didn't the Corporation tell the City--in its report that already cost Berkeley citizens $50,000 – about RFI, or radio frequency interference? RFI can sabotage Berkeley's public safety systems. It can cause dropped calls, dead zones, and static in police and fire radio transmissions. More often than not, the RFI interference comes from commercial wireless services--notably, from cell phones and the antennas and towers that keep them going. (“Sounds of Silence: Cell Phone Towers are a Police Radio Nightmare,” Law Enforcement News, March l5, 200l), and “Cell Phones Drowning Out Police Radios,” 

Police complaints, possibly rooted in RFI, were recently used to justify turning on Berkeley's illegal (put up without City permits) ‘safety’ tower. Most likely Nextel was the source of the RFI, although RFI can, under certain circumstances, also come from other wireless providers, such as AT&T and Cingular. Nextel, police and fire share the same range of radio frequencies. When and if these frequencies overlap, Nextel transmissions can overpower police calls. Consequently, police emergency response might be delayed by a busy signal, static or dropped calls.  

To further complicate matters, every time Nextel adds a new site, the whole configuration of their system is changed. The police can't keep up with the changes. What good would it do for Berkeley to pay the Macro Corporation $43,000 to measure today when it might be playing in a different ballpark tomorrow? Wouldn't it be better for the City to create a part-time, salaried position for an independent, physicist-engineer, researcher type (perhaps even a grad student) to figure things out and keep tabs on Berkeley's changing emissions' maps? Similarly, when and if the City takes down the new tower, can't it train City employees already on the payroll to do the job, rather than hire expensive industry?  

Berkeley (as elsewhere) has to decide which is more important, public safety or recreational cell phone use. And if measure we must, why should Berkeley foot the bill? If the need for measurements does come from Nextel – charge Nextel. Let them take up the issue with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), who unwisely sold Nextel a license in the already occupied public safety waveband sector.  

Thanks to Berkeley Council Members Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington who recently voted against turning on the illegal Tower. 


Kate Bernier