In event of an emergency or disaster, direct and timely communication among first responders (police, fire and service providers) is the key to successfully responding to and mitigating the impacts to our communities. In the East Bay, we experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake (1989) and the Oakland Hills Firestorm (1991) where communications was identified as a weakness in the response. We also saw the total breakdown that occurred when communications systems failed agencies responding to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The Alameda Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), representing cities, special districts and the county, supports coordinated radio communication interoperability and urges affected jurisdictions/agencies in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties to complete and implement a common radio network and communications system.
Alameda LAFCo is a state-mandated local agency that oversees boundary changes to cities and special districts, the formation of new agencies including incorporation of new cities, and the consolidation of existing agencies. As required by state law, Alameda LAFCo recently concluded a Municipal Service Review (MSR) to ensure efficient public service structures, logical boundaries and protection of open spaces and agricultural lands. We learned that in emergencies/disasters, public safety and health personnel were not able to communicate directly with one another—making a difficult situation even worse. This is not acceptable. Finding a solution was a recommendation of the MSR and is a high priority for Alameda LAFCo.
We further learned that both Contra Costa and Alameda counties and cities have been working together over three years as part of the federally sponsored Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) to establish priorities for homeland security funding and to evaluate different alternatives. Public safety officials from Contra Costa and Alameda counties have developed a joint powers agreement for the East Bay Regional Communications System (EBRCS), which consists of a board of directors with broad representation from both counties that will oversee the financial, technical, and operations of a two-county communications system. The EBRCS has been widely presented throughout the two counties with broad support from many cities and special districts.
No one seems to question the need or the value for a coordinated emergency communications system. Each entity is performing its due diligence on this matter—cost, governance, accountability, etc. Many of the entities are ready to proceed to the next step and join the EBRCS.
As an agency that encourages increased efficiencies of public service providers, Alameda LAFCo applauds the establishment of a two-county emergency communications system and urges timely implementation by all affected agencies—before an emergency or disaster occurs.
Janet Lockhart is chair of LAFCo.