Q: What is LA-RICS?
A: Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communication System is a joint powers authority that oversees two different projects that will vastly improve how police and fire departments throughout LA County communicate with each other.
The first project involves the installation of 63 fixed and 15 portable broadband towers for the transmission of data. The second project creates a private voice radio network for 34,000 emergency service personnel who serve the 10 million people of Los Angeles County.
Why do we need this system?
For two very important reasons: First, not all of these public agencies are on the same frequency or network, so they can’t talk to each other. In fact, the safety agencies for 88 cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County are using a patchwork of 40 aging networks.
Second, many of the agencies are using the same broadband connection that the rest of us do for our smart phones and devices. Public safety agencies are competing for bandwidth that is becoming increasingly crowded as people buy more devices.
Why is that a problem?
The commercial broadband systems work just fine in times of calm, but it becomes a huge, costly – and life-threatening problem – during a large-scale emergency, when everyone starts calling and texting friends and loved ones. This can overwhelm the system, slowing down communications and in some cases crashing the commercial network. Police, firefighters and paramedics can lose valuable time or can be cut off altogether, preventing them from saving lives and protecting property.
Has that actually happened?
Yes. During 9/11, the New York Police and New York Fire Departments could not communicate with each other because they were on different systems. During Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombing, the cellular networks crashed, preventing paramedics from communicating with hospitals, fire or police, or with out-of-state rescue crews.
Closer to home, regional and state firefighting agencies had difficulty communicating with each other during the Station Fire. And regional police agencies encountered great difficulty communicating with each other as they pursued cop killer Christopher Dorner across five counties in 2014.
I understand about large-scale emergencies, but what about day-to-day operations?
One of the biggest benefits will be how the new system will help police, fire and paramedics with “normal” emergencies, like saving a drowning child or transporting patients to the hospital. They will be able to receive texts and photos from bystanders and the new data system will allow doctors to actually watch and guide medical procedures in the field.
How were the tower sites chosen?
The sites were chosen based on input from technical and operational experts from Los Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, and the independent cities that are members of LA-RICS, whose headquarters is in Monterey Park.
Where are the towers located?
The majority of the towers will be located at LA County Sheriff’s offices and LAPD stations. Others will go in at fire and police stations in other cities, hilltop communication towers, hospitals, courthouses, Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power sites and at the Los Angeles Port.
How tall will the towers be?
The towers will be in the range of 70 feet, depending on the topography and planning restrictions.
Who’s paying for this?
The U.S. Dept. of Commerce is paying for the bulk of the broadband network through a $117 million grant. Other federal grants have been used to date for the deployment of the voice radio network.
I’ve heard that the radio frequency waves emitted by the towers will cause health problems. Is that true?
No. The amount of radio waves emitted at ground level by the towers will be 1,000 times lower than what the Federal Communications Commission has deemed safe for the public. In relative terms, the towers will give off dramatically fewer RF emissions than smart and cordless phones, Bluetooth headsets, microwave ovens, WiFi-equipped laptop computers—even baby monitors.
It should be noted that the World Health Organization, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute have all said radio towers pose no danger to public health. So have expert groups in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, the United Kingdom – all of whom cite the lack of conclusive proof that RE emissions cause health problems or cancer.
Who will be able to use the network?
Local police, firefighters and other emergency responders, such as the California Highway Patrol, US Border Patrol, responders from outside of Los Angeles County, hospitals and ambulance services.
Is the county going to be leasing space on this new network to commercial cellphone companies?
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have adopted a policy that it will not permit commercial carriers onto County property to use excess capacity on LA-RICS towers that are within 250 feet of any residence or located where firefighters live and work.
Is it true that emergency personnel are opposed to this project?
Not true. The Los Angeles Police Dept., the Police Protective League, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. are fully behind this project, as are LAPD Chief Beck, LA County Sheriff McDonnell, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby and Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas
When will the broadband system be completed?
The federal grant requires that all of the broadband towers be installed and in operation by Oct. 1, 2015. Upon completion, the broadband system will provide state-of-the-art service to police, fire, paramedics and other emergency personnel serving 99.2% of the Los Angeles County population.