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An Emergency Communications Update

Thu, 11/16/2023 - 11:32
East Hampton Town’s emergency communications infrastructure would offer comprehensive coverage and redundancy with additional sites, as this depiction presented to the town board this week illustrates.

The five original sites making up East Hampton Town’s emergency communications infrastructure have been upgraded and are operational, as is an additional site off East Lake Drive in Montauk and a temporary installation on Gann Road in Springs, the latter pending a permanent tower at Camp Blue Bay in that hamlet, the town board was told on Tuesday.

But proposed additions on existing towers on Shelter Island and at the Northwest brush dump in East Hampton would complete a “second ring within the ring,” providing comprehensive coverage and redundancy, Edward Schnell, the Police Department’s communications technician, told the board.

The system is used by the town’s Police Department as well as those of East Hampton Village and Sag Harbor Village, local fire departments, and many other town and village departments. An upgrade began in 2017, and the five original sites — in Montauk, Amagansett, Wainscott, Noyac, and on the Town Hall campus in East Hampton — are now supplemented by the additional site in Montauk, known as a Ground Air Transmit Receive site, or GATR, a joint project between the town and the Suffolk County Police Department.

The tower at Town Hall is to be extended by 20 feet to clear a line of sight between it and the Montauk tower, as the Federal Aviation Administration did not allow the desired height for the latter. A bid for that work is to be awarded today.

A 185-foot monopole constructed by AT&T stands at the Northwest brush dump, at the intersection of Old Northwest Road and Cedar Street. The town will occupy the top 25 feet of it. “We’re putting a shelter and generator and propane tank at the bottom, and putting antennas at the top,” Mr. Schnell said. It will provide “pretty good coverage,” he said.

Emergency communications equipment will also be located on the top 25 feet of the recently constructed 185-foot monopole at Camp Blue Bay, where a shelter, generator, and propane tank must also be installed. 

But “none of this stuff works if you just throw it up and it can’t talk to the equipment here at Town Hall, because that’s what runs the show,” Mr. Schnell told the board.

The terrain around the Springs and GATR sites have proven troublesome for the system design, he said. “Springs has low ground elevation, and any link out has to be at significant height above ground level.” In Montauk, “the GATR site has good elevation but is blocked by the hill that Montauk Manor and the water tank is on.”

And the two towers there are just 85 feet tall, owing to F.A.A. restrictions. The only clean link from the GATR site to an existing site is to Montauk, so a failure at Montauk would cause both GATR and Montauk to go down simultaneously.

The addition of the Northwest brush dump location resolves one path, he said, but another is needed. “The number-one option was Plum Island,” Mr. Schnell said, “but no one knows what’s going to happen to Plum Island in three years, so that was out.” The water tank off Flamingo Road in Montauk was also considered, but the Suffolk County Water Authority has site-specific requirements. “We use propane generators. They don’t allow propane because it’s explosive.”

An existing 190-foot lattice tower at the Shelter Island landfill, offering a clean path from both the GATR and Springs locations, became available, he said. He proposed this as a relay site. “The microwave comes in, the microwave goes out. We’re not providing radio coverage to Shelter Island, it’s just a hop-off point.”

It still requires a storm-hardened installation, but it will need less equipment than a full site, he said, just a metal cabinet and backup generator. The Shelter Island and Southampton Town Police Departments already have equipment there.  

The board must review and adopt the environmental assessment for the emergency communications update, Mr. Schnell said, and approve the proposal — provided by Motorola Solutions — at a cost of $4.8 million for all necessary equipment. Motorola has indicated that if a purchase order is issued this year, the new sites could be operational by Memorial Day. 

“I fully support completing the system with these additional sites,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said.

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