Communications TowerLos Angeles County officials are looking to ensure that its 34,000 first responders are linked to one another and can communicate instantaneously in the event of a large-scale crisis or other catastrophic emergency – an issue that became nearly impossible to tackle during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The county is in the process of implementing the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System, a modern wireless voice and data communications system that will support 50 law enforcement agencies and 31 fire departments within the region.

The project was developed after the terrorists attacks in New York City took place, said Patrick Mallon, executive director of the LA-RICS project.

“Those first responders were going into those buildings without the ability to communicate with each other, being on different frequencies and radio systems,” Mallon said.

An older system is currently in place here in which public safety officials can roll out equipment and patch frequencies together, but not fast enough, he said.

“In the first hours when it’s important to coordinate communications, we don’t have the ability right now to have all fire and police to talk to each other,” Mallon said. “We have a number of agencies with no ability to talk to each other.”

“This system is desperately needed in Los Angeles,” he added.

As part of the large scale project, two new 150-foot towers will be built early next year near Whittier

and the Puente Hills Landfill, which the Board of Supervisors approved in November 2010.

The L.A. County Public Works Department will construct a $2.3 million Rio Hondo New Tower at Skyline Fire Road and Workman Mill Road, and a $2.5 million Puente Hills New Tower at Vantage Point Drive.

Two communication towers will also be built in Palmdale and Lancaster.

“It is basically part of a broadcasting communications tower,” Public Works spokesman Mike Kaspar said of the four new developments. “It broadcasts a signal from one of these four locations, and is part of this communication system for L.A. County first responders, including sheriffs, fire and public works.”

The Rio Hondo and Puente Hills locations each have an existing 120-foot tower and small building operating at the sites, but the more than 20-year-old structures have reached their capacity, officials said.

The towers “have antennas and all kinds of other equipment attached to them and essentially they’re at full capacity, so we needed to add on to them,” Kaspar said.

Adding a new tower with more antennas and radio equipment will enhance the quality of communication for public safety, officials said.

It will “improve the resiliency and survivability of the existing communications system, and support the operational needs of public safety, including interoperability,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Michael Parker said, adding that the towers are essential to public safety agencies.

The LA-RICS project will affect more than 34,000 emergency personnel, including the Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department and health services operating in Los Angeles, Long Beach and the county.

The joint effort also includes the Los Angeles Unified School District and UCLA.

The Interagency Communications Interoperability System – which covers Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Glendale, Pasadena, Pomona and Montebello – will also be part of the new system.

All organizations will be able to pool their their frequencies and existing infrastructure, allowing public safety groups to exchange voice and data information on demand and in real-time while on the field, Mallon said.

The multi-agency system, funded by federal grants, will also improve emergency response to the county’s 10 million residents, officials said.

“We’re doing the best that we can to utilize federal funds to the greatest extent possible,” Mallon said.

Depending on the funding, it is estimated that the entire system is will be fully built out and functional by 2013.