It’s 2:30 a.m. and the phone rings.
It’s the Sheriff’s Office on the line. There’s a problem.
After a brief conversation, she rapidly taps out a few text messages to colleagues and her boss.
Within minutes, Pamela Sauseda groggily climbs out of bed and heads out the door of her Lodi home and heads to French Camp to help bring the county’s critical public safety radio system back online.
The scenario has played out dozens of times during Sauseda’s 13-year tenure with the county as an information systems analyst III, and the primary support person for the vast radio network that connects deputies to dispatch, and to each other.
Sauseda and her support team know full well the importance of keeping the system operational. It is an electronic lifeline for officers and first responders. Virtually all emergency responders rely on it for communications.
The network of towers supports all kinds of public safety agencies in San Joaquin County, including the sheriff, rural fire departments, local police and fire departments (like Lodi), AMR ambulance, the emergency medical service system (EMS), the federal Homeland Security Department, and others.
The system is a complex mix of radio, microwave and network technologies that interconnect over 17 towers scattered throughout the county, and even across county lines.
One of those towers is in Lodi, behind City Hall. Communication antennae for Lodi Police and Fire Departments, along with the sheriff and others, are fastened to it. The 120-foot self-supporting tower also serves as a microwave site for one of two interconnecting microwave loops.
No one knows more about the county radio system or its towers than Sauseda. She helped build them.
Sauseda started her career with San Joaquin County in 2007 as a 28-year old working in capital projects for the county administrator’s office. She began as a junior project manager helping manage projects such as construction of the new county administration building on the corner of Weber and San Joaquin in downtown Stockton.
Less than two years later, she was hired by the county’s Information Systems Division to help build towers for the expanding radio communications program. Their mission is to make sure public safety agencies like the sheriff and rural fire departments have the necessary tools and infrastructure “to call for help when they need it,” Sauseda says.
Over a dozen years ago, before the tower expansion, sheriff radio reception was spotty in places. There were dead spots where police radios would not work. Deputies found themselves on their own, unable to communicate with dispatch or other units, especially in some of the distant corners of the county.
It was an untenable situation for the sheriff.
The solution was a series of radio towers strategically located throughout the county, all communicating with each other via a microwave network. Police communications would travel by microwave to each tower, then be broadcast from each tower simultaneously. It was intricate and complex. But it worked.
Deputy Director David Newaj, Sauseda’s boss, said, “Pam (has) played an instrumental role in helping San Joaquin County achieve the goal of a stable, reliable and state-of-the-art public safety radio system.”
The microwave network design is unique. Several years ago, only L.A. County had a similar design. Now, several more counties have adopted San Joaquin County’s approach.
But it has been problematic in the past, says Sauseda. Outages would occur because of weather or technical blips. The lack of resiliency would keep her awake at nights. Literally, she says. A recent major upgrade has mitigated many of those problems, she says.
“Working in the public safety communications field is not for the faint of heart,” says Newaj, indicating there is little room for error.
Sauseda says that hers is a 24-7, 365-day job.
Besides being on standby virtually every day of the year and being ready to help with system outages, Sauseda has also been on the front lines for almost every upgrade and installation. Within the past three months, she helped implement upgrades to the emergency medical system (EMS) for ambulances. Lodi is one of the transmit sites for the new system, she says.
But Sauseda stresses that she doesn’t do it alone. She works closely with a staff of highly trained professionals in ISD, the sheriff’s department, and an assortment of support contractors.
“Radio is a team effort,” Sauseda says. “We all do our work behind the scenes,” she says.
When Sauseda was first assigned to the radio section, she knew she’d be entering a field dominated by men. And working closely with the Sheriff’s Department, she knew she would have to earn their trust.
Newaj agrees. “In an industry that is traditionally dominated by men, Pam was one of the very few women to rise through the ranks and achieve a lead role in radio communications within a California county,” he says.
To earn people’s trust, Sauseda volunteered to ride along with a patrol sergeant one night so they could visit areas of the county where officers had complained of poor radio reception.
It proved to be a terrifying experience.
While on patrol there was a call for a man with a gun. It was happening nearby, so they responded. Upon arrival, Sauseda was told to stay in the patrol car but to do whatever was necessary to protect herself if things went sideways.
A few minutes later she spotted a man running towards her with a gun in his hand. And it wasn’t an officer. Thoughts of survival raced through her mind. Should she unleash the patrol unit’s rifle? Should she jump behind the wheel and speed away?
Fortunately, she didn’t have to make that choice. The man ran past her and jumped a fence. A few minutes later officers nabbed the suspect and the emergency was over.
At that point Sauseda realized from firsthand experience what officers in the field face and the situation they could find themselves in. It also became clear to her how critical the communications system was to first responders everywhere.
Sauseda was born in Lodi. She attended San Francisco State University. She and her family still call Lodi their home. Her dad Felix Sauseda recently passed away, but her mom Josephine still lives here. Her brother Mark also passed away, but she has a sister, Corey Sauseda-Floyd, and brother, Wayne Sauseda, who live out of town.
While she doesn’t do the “hands-on” technical work, which is performed by contractors and the county’s network team, Sauseda is responsible for applying for grants and planning system upgrades.
A big part of her job is also coordinating emergency responses during disasters to ensure public safety communications are available and working property.
Four years ago, when heavy rains pummeled San Joaquin County and Northern California, Sauseda helped staff the county emergency operations center, arranging for additional radio and telephone infrastructure to be brought in for all the emergency responders. She also assisted with sandbagging in Thornton when flood waters threatened to inundate the radio room at the foot of a tower.
In 2017, when the new county courthouse was being completed, Sauseda coordinated efforts to move the county’s microwave site to the top of the stately 13-story building, which became Stockton’s tallest. She also assisted with getting WiFi in the new building.
Earlier this year, Sauseda assisted with implementation of “SJREADY Alerts,” a new community notification system designed to alert residents of emergency events and other important public safety information.
Most of her days are filled with meetings. One of the most important regular meetings has been with the sheriff’s department, which has to approve and sign off on any work done to tower sites or the radio system. It is also in meetings like that where she learns of needs and desires of her constituent agencies.
When Sauseda hears of a problem or need from one of the agencies she supports, she begins to brainstorm. “How can I make that happen for them?” she’ll ask herself. Many times “making it happen” involves additional funding and lots of planning.
Sometimes it involves securing a grant, which is right down her alley. One of her many responsibilities is securing Homeland Security grants for public safety projects. She also helps manage the county’s $3.4 million annual radio budget.
Over the past couple of years Sauseda has transitioned into the project management office within her division. She recently completed a digital strategic plan for the county, which will be the “framework for the next three years to enhance services to our communities,” she says.
As Sauseda leans back and considers all that’s been accomplished by she and her colleagues over the past decade, she feels a sense of satisfaction.
“We get stuff to work,” she says with pride.
Steve Mann is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears most Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at email@example.com.