PBA President cites public safety need for new, statewide radio communications system

PBA President cites public safety need for new, statewide radio communications system
PBA, 2004-05-07

PBA President Daniel M. De Federicis was interviewed by reporters from two newspapers, The New York Times and the Times Union of Albany, regarding the state’s communications system used by public safety officers. In these stories, President De Federicis stressed the need for a new statewide communications system to replace the old, outdated technology that has often resulted in problems for New York State Troopers, such as not being able to contact back-up or their stations for help through their portable radios.

To read the stories, click on the links below or refer to the text. President De Federicis’ comments have been placed in bold by the PBA.

The New York Times


May 7, 2004

Plan for Emergency Radio Net Is Said to Spare Protected Lands


ALBANY, May 6 – New York’s ambitious effort to create a statewide wireless emergency communications system will not include any construction in the protected wilderness areas of the Adirondacks and Catskills, officials in the Pataki administration said on Thursday.

In detailing the project for the first time since awarding the $1 billion contract, the administration said that rather than building hundreds of towers in the mountains, as environmentalists had feared, the plan is for only a handful of towers to be erected in populated areas, and for repeaters, mounted on emergency vehicles, to be used to improve radio signals to give police, fire and other agencies across New York greater coordination in responding to disasters.

The contract, the largest technology pact in the state’s history, has generated sharp criticism from environmentalists worried about the project’s impact on pristine areas, and it has also drawn scrutiny from lawmakers and others who denounce what they see as a lack of openness about bidding process.

Yesterday, the Pataki administration moved to allay fears about the project, describing it as a "pilot program" that can be ended at any time.

The administration announced the awarding of the contract on Friday to a subsidiary of Tyco International. That company, M/A-Com, was represented by former Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato in its efforts to secure the work.

Democratic lawmakers, led by Assemblywoman RoAnn M. Destito, from the Utica area, have called for hearings into the awarding of the contract. The state comptroller, Alan G. Hevesi, a Democrat, is looking into the matter.

The Assembly, with a majority of Democrats, and the Republican-controlled Senate have called for a joint conference committee, a relatively rare event in Albany, to try and formulate a reform package that would require the disclosure of costs and expenses incurred while lobbying for contracts with state agencies and authorities.

A Pataki administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said an outside firm looked at the integrity of the process and found that the state had taken every precaution to be sure the contract was awarded properly.

In describing the effort as a pilot program, two administration officials were careful to say that they viewed the deal in its early stages where the technology could be tested in one section of the state for roughly a year before any long-term commitment is made.

"We can pull the plug any time," said one of the officials, insisting on anonymity because negotiations to complete the deal are still under way.

Those negotiations could take as long as six months. It could be two years before the pilot program is completed and three years after that before any kind of system is put into place, according to the administration.

The awarding of the contract comes more than eight years after the Pataki administration initially envisioned the system, three years after it began drawing up details of what it wanted and more than a year after the two companies bidding on the project submitted their proposals.

Democrats, Republicans and police union officials have all said New York needs to update its antiquated state police communications system. "It is an old, outdated system,” said Daniel M. DeFedericis, president of the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers Inc. "The system is limping along with remnant radio parts from the 1960’s."

Mr. DeFedericis and other union officials said that in 2001, in Ogdensburg, N.Y., a state trooper had to leave the side of an investigator, who had been shot in the stomach with a rifle and was bleeding, because his hand-held radio did not work and he could not call for help from the scene. The investigator lived.

"We’ve had some awfully close calls because the radio system fails to reach the entire patrol area,” Mr. DeFedericis said.

Republicans who support a statewide wireless network have also been critical over delays in getting the project moving.

"Given the lessons of 9/11 and the urgency of the issue, I am very frustrated it has taken this long to get the program to the point of the initial stages," said State Senator Michael A. L. Balboni, a Republican from Long Island and a leading proponent of enhancing the state’s domestic security apparatus.

In fact, as far back as 1998, the Pataki administration had reached a tentative deal to engage in a partnership with Motorola to develop a hybrid system that would have built a few towers in the Adirondacks and Catskills, limiting the coverage in those areas but avoiding significant environmental damage.

Shortly after reaching that tentative deal, the state comptroller at the time, H. Carl McCall – who was preparing for a run against Gov. George E. Pataki – voiced concern about the deal. The Pataki administration decided that instead of challenging him, they would open the contract up for bidding.

An administration official said the process had taken so long because officials wanted to ensure that New York had the best system. After Sept. 11, that took on added urgency.

The proposals, offered by the Tyco subsidiary, M/A-Com, and Motorola, were so different in what they said the job would cost – with Tyco’s bid for the 20-year contract coming in at roughly $1 billion and Motorola’s bid costing roughly $3 billion – that many observers, Republicans and Democrats alike, wondered how such disparate bids could each satisfy the state’s requirements.

Critics of the deal pointed to Pennsylvania, where Tyco, a company based in Bermuda, has the contract to build a similar system that is already three years late. It also has cost more than double what the company said it would in its bid.

The Tyco subsidiary’s winning bid in New York is roughly three times more expensive than what any other state in the country is spending to install a similar system.

In offering new details of the project on Thursday, a Pataki administration official said New York could achieve its goal to cover 95 percent of the state’s geographic area, and 97 percent of its roadways, with as few as four towers built in the Adirondacks and the Catskills and none in protected areas, sharply fewer than the 400 towers that Motorola, the company competing for the project, had proposed.

Administration officials said the different approach to building new towers was the major reason for the vast difference in the cost of the bids.

An official at Motorola, which is examining its options and might appeal the state’s decision, as well as several Democratic lawmakers, said they believed the state had been very specific in what it required of the bidders and that the Tyco bid did not meet the requirements. But since no one has seen the full details of the Tyco proposal, they were relying on public statements and sketchy details that have leaked out.

In the state’s own specifications, which are available at the state Office for Technology Web site, there are 300 pages of very specific requirements. For instance, while an administration official said telephone poles would be used to locate equipment, the state specifications seem to require that the poles be metal. In addition, the state specifications call for 2,000-gallon propane tanks to provide a backup power supply and bulletproof shelters at the base of transmitter sites.

It remains unclear how the Tyco plan meets these requirements.

In the Tyco proposal, repeaters are an essential element in avoiding the construction of towers. Repeaters are used throughout the country as a standard way of giving greater amplification to the transmissions of hand-held radios. But the technology is not foolproof. For instance, firefighters in the World Trade Center who responded to the Sept. 11 attack had communication problems despite the fact that a repeater in a fire chief’s car had been turned on.

Some law enforcement officials are puzzled over how the state came to its decision.

"We’ve had a real positive relationship with Motorola for a number of years; they’ve served a lot of police departments around the state very, very well,” said John Grebert, assistant director of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police Inc. "But as far as what made the state finally decide to go with Tyco or M/A-Com, I really don’t know that."


Times Union


State troopers push for a new wireless radio system

Albany– Union chief concerned technology will be obsolete by the time the costly project is done

By JAMES M. ODATO, Capitol bureau
First published: Friday, May 7, 2004

The state troopers’ union said Thursday that New York critically needs a statewide wireless radio system, but voiced concern that the proposed technology may be obsolete by the time the system is completed.

Meanwhile, the Pataki administration is unsure whether it will supply all the information sought by Assembly members looking into the $1 billion to $2 billion network contract.

Troopers are on the road 24/7 working with a severely outdated radio system," said Dan De Federicis, president of New York State Troopers PBA. "We’ve had situations where troopers were literally wrestling with multiple perpetrators, and their calls for backup had no response because nobody heard them."

He said troopers have long complained about dead spots around the state and have waited years for a new system. The system has been used since the 1960s.

De Federicis said he will testify at the Assembly hearing on the statewide wireless system May 19. Assembly members have questions about the cost, technology, necessity and bidding process.

"It has been limping along with various updates and Band-Aids over the decades. … Troopers are working alone and their only partner — their radio — is useless because the towers can’t pick them up and nobody can hear them."

In 2001 near Ogdensburg, he said, an investigator was shot and a trooper returned fire, killing the perpetrator. But the trooper had to leave his bleeding colleague to call for backup because his portable radio could not get a signal.

Troopers, De Federicis said, fear the new network will take so long to set up that the technology will be outdated by the time it is done.

The state has refused to provide details about the proposed contractor’s plan. The Office of Technology would not say whether it will supply contract data sought by letter by the Assembly.

"The questions we’ve asked are questions that need public airing. Billions of dollars are at stake," said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Westchester County.

The winning bid went Friday to M/A-Com, a subsidiary of Tyco International, spurring an outcry from Motorola, the only other bidder. Motorola officials questioned M/A-Com’s ability to perform, saying the company’s project in Pennsylvania has been delayed and is over budget.

Donald Appleby, director of Pennsylvania’s Statewide Radio Project, said the cost was projected at $222.03 million and is now pegged at $240 million. The project still faces several challenges, he acknowledged, including coverage concerns and the lack of compatible radio technology among state and local agencies.

The coverage concerns stem primarily from the 2003 bankruptcy of the company that was supposed to install radio towers, Rohn Industries, Appleby said.