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State provides Cheektowaga $500,000 to upgrade emergency response communications

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

The Town of Cheektowaga's emergency response radio system, used by police and firefighters, is getting what officials say are much-needed enhancements to address potentially dangerous problems. On Friday, State Senator Tim Kennedy joined local officials to announce funding for an upgrade.

Cheektowaga Assistant Police Chief Brian Gould says the 9/11 attacks exposed flaws in the communication systems of first responders, problems still experienced in his town today.

"An after action report showed that poor radio communications negatively impacted the response of the heroes working to save lives that day. I can tell you firsthand, as both a police officer and a volunteer firefighter in Cheektowaga, that our system also put our first responders at risk," he said. "We have struggled with radio communications, police officers on foot pursuits and rear yards, firefighters inside buildings that are on fire. They rely on portable handheld radios to keep them safe. But it didn't always work the way we needed to. The new technology has existed that would greatly improve our system."

But at a high price. Town Supervisor Diane Benczkowski says the push for the improvements is more than a year in the making. But they estimated the cost at $1 million. Earlier this year, though, State Senator Kennedy informed the town money would be set aside for the needed upgrade. On Friday morning, he joined some of the town's leaders and first responders inside Saia Communications, the company designing the new system.

"We know the system overhaul was inevitable. And then if we didn't step in, the cost would be passed on to those taxpayers, a cost that especially these days during COVID-19 would be magnified," he said. "I really hope that this funding is going to help give the proper support that's necessary during these times of crisis."

The project calls for expanding a single-site system into a six-point simulcast network.

"In addition to that, the police department had a single operating radio channel. We were able to get them a second operating channel for police," said Mike Saia of Saia Communications. "The fire departments have two channels, and we're adding an additional channel, so one of the channels can be considered an interoperability channel. If there is a mass incident in the town, you'll have two police channels, two fire channels and an interoperable channel so fire and police can communicate with each other."

The updated system is expected to be operational within the next month.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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