Though many vulnerabilities were exposed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, none received more attention than the lack of an interoperable communications system linking New York City's (NYC's) first responders to incident command centers and city government. It seems appropriate in this first of a series of articles showcasing homeland security funding applications in different cities that "Law Enforcement Technology" focuses on the forward progress NYC has achieved in communications.
"We remain a prime — if not the prime — target for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups," Mayor Michael Bloomberg testified before Congress on January 9. "That presents challenges we are determined to meet head on. And we are sparing no expense.
"My responsibility as mayor is to first do everything I can to keep our city safe and then find a way to pay for it, and not the other way around," he continued. "And from the outset, I think we've done exactly that. Our administration has taken steps to strengthen all parts of our city, including our first line of defense — the NYPD."
Andrew Troisi, a spokesperson for NYC's Office of Emergency Management, echoes Bloomberg's sentiments. He reports his office continually seeks to improve emergency communications between agencies. Upgrading interoperable radio capabilities and evaluating new technology are major components of this effort. To this end, the Office of Emergency Management bolstered emergency response capabilities by implementing the Citywide Incident Management System and regularly conducting multi-agency exercises and training.
The move to a comprehensive and reliable system
The very first issue addressed after 9/11 was the challenge of coordinating all NYC agencies under one comprehensive and reliable communications system.
At first glance, the RFP (request for proposal) requirements for such a project seemed surreal. At second glance, they looked to be impossible. Requirements included:
- 2 Mbps data and full-motion video for vehicles moving at speeds as fast as 70 mph;
- Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) systems for 5,000 vehicles;
- 1,000 wireless call boxes; and
- wireless traffic control for signals at as many as 8,000 intersections.
- After reviewing the RFP, other companies asked NYC officials to lower their expectations, but NYC dug in deep and maintained its stringent requirements. After two test programs from the two companies left standing after the bidding process — Northrop Grumman and Motorola — Northrop Grumman, headquartered in Los Angeles, California, won the contract.
Paul Chelson, Wireless Program Manager for Northrop Grumman Corp. and head of the project, says, "It was an aggressive and challenging RFP, but we knew it could be done."
In May 2007, Bloomberg announced a five-year, $500 million contract with Northrop Grumman to build, equip and maintain a citywide mobile wireless data network for public safety.
"The city has already secured roughly $20 million from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to help fund network design and build-out, and we are aggressively pursuing available funding to support this investment," states Nicholas Sbordone, director of Internal Affairs for NYC's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly calls the advanced communications network "a giant step into the future," adding, "The future success of crime fighting and public safety in general is inexorably wedded to the ability to quickly access data and share it."
More funding may be available for expanded capability as the project evolves. Future funding could include expenditures for more access to the network (tens of thousands will initially have access) and could potentially include surrounding metropolitan areas with supplementary software integration packages. After five years, the city can extend the contract for an additional 10 years of operation and maintenance.