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Westbrook Hires Consultant for Radio Needs Assessment

Published Aug. 13, 2019

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In an important step toward actualizing its $1 million-plus two-way radio infrastructure project, the Town of Westbrook has awarded a contract to New England Radio Consultants, based in Shelton and Center Ossipee, New Hampshire.

Paul Zito, owner of New England Radio Consultants, will conduct an evaluation of the proposed project—a draft of which was put together by Director of Emergency Management Don Izzo—and provide the town with a report. The amount of the consulting contract is $9,000, an amount approved by the Board of Selectmen (BOS) in February.

The purpose of the two-way radio infrastructure project is to eliminate dead zones—areas in which emergency communications don’t work—as well as to improve emergency communications infrastructure overall, which may or may not mean installing one or more new communications towers.

The cost of Izzo’s draft proposal is well over $1 million, and Westbrook First Selectman Noel Bishop in particular has pushed hard for an outside consultant to evaluate the plan and provide recommendations before moving forward and committing the town to that expense.

A request for proposals (RFP) that deadlined June 21 resulted in bids from eight consulting companies. These were reviewed in a public meeting by the ad hoc committee formed by the BOS in April. The committee then narrowed the contenders down to four, interviewed those four in executive session at its July 17 meeting, and ultimately voted unanimously to award the contract to New England Radio Consultants.

In a special meeting on Aug. 1, the BOS went into executive session to interview Zito by phone. The BOS then also voted unanimously to award the contract to New England Radio Consultants pending revisions and an addendum as discussed with Zito, as well as review by the town attorney.

“What we clarified is that his rate will be $9,000 for the project,” explained Westbrook First Selectman Noel Bishop, noting that if Zito determines that extra work is required to complete the job, “he has the right to come back and ask for more money, but that would have to be documented and approved by the BOS.”

The RFP tasks the consultant with meeting individually with each member of the ad hoc committee as well as other designated individuals; reviewing Izzo’s draft proposal, including maps of dead zones and possible locations of cell towers; touring and appraising those possible tower locations; and making recommendations for implementing the project along with providing cost estimates.

In addition, according to the minutes of the July 18 special BOS meeting, Zito will conduct a needs assessment of project stakeholders.

Zito’s experience consulting on emergency communications in Connecticut towns such as Fairfield, Trumbull, North Haven, and East Hampton, together with the familiarity of a number of committee members with his work, were primary reasons for his winning the contract, Bishop said.

“I think that’s one of the reasons there was a unanimous decision about this person—because of his track record,” said Bishop.

“I bring the parties together,” Zito said. When conducting the needs assessment, he said he asks, “‘What do you have and what do you think you need to provide the public service that you’ve been asked to provide?’ And then I walk them through that process.

“I put this all together in [an initial] report that says: Here’s how EMS (emergency medical services) responded, how the Fire Department responded” with recommendations for a “system that melds together and serves the taxpayer,” he said.

“I guide them through the process so that they understand truly what their needs are,” he continued. “I’m a firm believer that you should not buy something today that you will need to throw away five years from now. It might be better to spend an extra $100 today than spend $500 [more] in the next five or ten years.”

While radio systems for town once cost between $20,000 and $30,000, they now cost a million dollars or more, he pointed out.

“Nobody wants to sign up for that kind of money because they don’t know what they’re signing up for,” he said. “I’m their representative and conscience about what they’re buying and what the long-term costs are.”

Zito also says that he’s vendor- and provider-neutral, meaning he does not advocate for one brand of equipment over another, nor does he express preferences for one service provider or another.

In April, representatives from Connecticut state agencies attended at a special April 4 BOS meeting to discuss the state’s emergency communications systems and how Westbrook might use that, instead of a separate network. Zito says that he will evaluate the state system as he would any other vendor.

“It’s not that they are a consultant for the town,” he said. “They’re there to provide a service so they have to be put in the vendor category.”

The pros and cons of the system the state is offering will be evaluated, just as they would for any other vendor, he said.

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