by TERENCE J. KIVLAN
WASHINGTON -- New York City's congressional delegation has mounted a push for $2 million in federal funds to help develop a common emergency communication system for cops and firefighters.
The need for such a system was dramatized during the rescue effort at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, when perhaps 120 firefighters died in the collapse of Tower 2 because they did not hear a warning from a police helicopter that the building was on the verge of disintegration.
The lawmakers, including Rep. Vito Fossella (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn), requested the $2 million in a letter yesterday to the House Appropriations Committee, saying the money would be used to pay for a pilot program to develop an "interoperable wireless network" for police and fire departments in New York and other cities.
"The city and other municipalities are at a crossroads," the letter said. "Preliminary feedback from industry experts indicates that this project will help usher in a new generation of wireless public sector communications."
The project was launched in March when the city Department of Intelligence and Telecommunications put out a request for proposals (RFP), asking wireless companies to submit plans for the network.
Police and firefighters in the city and elsewhere in the country currently broadcast on different frequencies.
The RFP called for a system enabling the two groups to talk to each other as well as exchange videos and real-time pictures of emergency situations. In addition, the city requirements called for centralized tracking of emergency vehicles through a common, computerized dispatch system, and a network of wireless call boxes for use by the public to summon help.
In the pilot phase of the project, one or more of the vendors will be selected to demonstrate their systems.
The new technology produced by the program will be nonproprietary and available to other cities and local governments.
The inability of cops and firefighters to communicate at Ground Zero was a major topic of discussion when the federal commission investigating the events of Sept. 11 held a hearing last month in New York City.
Under questioning from commissioners, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani explained that a lack of interoperable technology had prevented the city from providing the two departments with a common communication system.
But a former director of the Office of Emergency Management, Jerome Hauer, later testified that the city had supplied the cops and firefighters with radios permitting them to communicate but that the departments did not want to share a common frequency.
"It is not just a radio [problem], it is culture," said Hauer, adding that the departments still do not have a joint command post.
Other city officials, however, have said the radios cited by Hauer had serious flaws, including an inability in some circumstances to receive calls from first responders in need of help.