- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2002

The District's chief technology officer admitted yesterday that her department is behind in some phases of a $31 million construction project to improve the fire and police radio system, but said it would be completed by next fall in compliance with federal funding requirements.
At a press conference yesterday, Suzanne J. Peck said the schedule of different components has been delayed, but time will be made up so construction of the radio system will be completed by Sept. 30, 2003.
"On the original direction plan, some things are ahead and some things are behind," Mrs. Peck said. "The plates are flowing and we are moving down the river. We will be there when we say we'll be there."
She said the development schedules change weekly and that being behind on certain phases does not delay the entire project.
Mrs. Peck called the press conference after some city officials complained to The Washington Times that the Office of Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) was behind in improving the radio system. A $46 million federal homeland security grant is covering the cost of the system, and that must be spent by Sept. 30 or some may be lost.
Most of the money will be spent to install six new antennas and transmitters to reduce the number of dead spots in the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department's radio system.
The Times reported Monday that OCTO had secured a $17 million contract with Motorola to build the transmitters and antennas, but the contract did not include 1,200 radios for the Metropolitan Police Department, a backup microwave antenna system or a transmitter diagnostic system.
City officials involved with constructing the system said those components are necessary for the radio system to work properly.
Although the fire department had a $5.3 million radio system installed in January 2000, the system has never operated properly because of an insufficient number of transmitters and antennas.
Commanders on the scene sometimes were unable to communicate with firefighters inside of burning buildings.
Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Fire Fighter Association, Local 36, said he is glad there is a deadline for completion of the system because firefighters have had to deal with the defective communication system for almost two years.
"I'm satisfied we have a deadline for completion, but tomorrow is when I'm concerned whether it will work or not," Lt. Sneed said.
He said he was working at a station on Alabama Avenue when the transmitter in Southeast failed and firefighters had to be dispatched by cellular telephone because their radios wouldn't work.
"I had no way to talk with anyone. I had to use Nextel," Lt. Sneed said.
The Times reported Thursday that one of the city's four existing antennas failed, disrupting communications as 90 firefighters battled a two-alarm fire at the Capitol Hill home of U.S. Rep. David Wu, Oregon Democrat, on Tuesday night.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Margret Nedelkoff Kellems said another component of the fire department radio system that could provide some immediate relief also has been delayed because of vendor problems.
She said installation of 13 mobile repeaters, which will be placed on emergency vehicles to enhance communications at fire scenes, have been delayed since October because of trouble getting the parts through Canadian customs.
The repeaters are the first of 63 planned for use to augment the communications system. Nine of the vehicle repeaters have been installed so far. The 13 should be online around the first of the year and should create some immediate improvement.
"What we hope is the [vehicle repeaters] will mitigate some of these problems," D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Adrian Thompson said.
"It works. We tested it and it works."

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