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San Bernardino County, California’s Public Safety Communications Division Responds Quickly to COVID-19

May 14, 2020

Alan Tilles, Chair of Shulman Rogers’ Technology, Media and Telecommunications Group, is pleased to serve as counsel for San Bernardino County’s Public Safety Communications Division, a core function within the county’s Information Service Department. Their recent work to support the citizens of San Bernardino County and the State of California in the wake of the coronavirus is quite impressive.


On Tuesday, April 14, the Public Safety Communications Division was tasked with providing communications for an Alternate Care Site to serve citizens of the county’s High Desert region.   For several weeks prior, like the rest of the US, the county had been engaged in the COVID-19 fight and the State of California had several major areas of COVID outbreak.  By mid-April, COVID cases were starting to multiply in other parts of the state, including San Bernardino County.  While existing local hospital and care facilities were handling the COVID patient caseload along with the typical patient load, it was clear that a surge of COVID afflicted patients would risk overloading the system, and could easily create a situation like seen in other parts of the country where there would be more critically ill patients than beds available. 


The decision was made to open an Alternate Care Site, configured and staffed to house nearly 1,000 patients with COVID-19, providing both a local care outlet for residents of the High Desert area while relieving area community hospitals from the surge and allowing them to continue to handle day to day care for the sick and injured.  Such a facility would rely heavily on information technology from basic telephone service, data drops supporting desktop computers and printers, all the way to video teleconferencing that would be critical to providing advanced patient care.


The Public Safety Communications Division, with the help of Aviat Networks, the county’s contracted Microwave System vendor, immediately began to devise a plan to install an enterprise grade microwave path into the Alternate Care Site.  The particular location of the ACS has historically weak cellular service, so reliable data transport and service through a microwave system was going to be extremely valuable, truly a Mission Critical requirement.  By the end of the first day, county staff had identified a series of equipment including a spare Aviat Networks Eclipse microwave radio, dehydrator, waveguide and dish, along with an all-weather outdoor environmental cabinet to secure the equipment.  Work began the second day with Aviat Networks staff to begin the installation work, which included installation of equipment at the ACS site along with complementary equipment which would source the data for the ACS at an existing county communications site about 15 miles away.  On the third day, construction work continued, with crews wearing face masks and maintaining six feet of separation while working within a fairly modest perimeter.  With the help of the Federal Communications Commission, the microwave path was issued Special Temporary Authority which provided legal authority to operate the system.  By the end of the third day, the system was aligned and optimized, and was ready to begin a full commissioning test the next day.  


Saturday, April 18th saw the successful completion of system commissioning before the lunch break.  The commissioning efforts on Saturday proved the system worked at top efficiency, offering rapid and consistent data flow along with verification of a solid fade margin, providing confirmation from several perspectives that the system could be relied upon to service a very critical health care environment.  The following week the Alternate Care Site was ready to accept patients, with  a suite of information technology solutions supported by a reliable enterprise, Mission Critical microwave system.


This project drives home the value of the following concepts:  First, a motivated technical staff who want to own a project from the first minutes, and are committed to seeing it to fruition.  Second, it pays to have spare or unassigned equipment on hand when emergencies hit.  Third, choose vendors and support organizations that can really help you by ramping up fast then hit the ground running.


San Bernardino County is proud and pleased to have been able to respond quickly to support the State of California’s efforts to address the unique needs posed by this crisis.