- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

The D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer is more than a month behind in constructing a $31 million police and fire radio system that has to be completed within the next 10 months.
The Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) has already spent about $5 million of the money, which was provided by Congress for homeland security. But the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department employees are still using a malfunctioning radio system, and Metropolitan Police Department officers are working with an obsolete system.
The main part of the upgrade consists of the installation of new transmitters and 10 antennas designed to upgrade the fire department's 2-year-old radio system. The current system has proven unreliable because of "dead spots" that often prevent firefighters on the scene from communicating clearly with their commanders.
The upgrade will also allow the D.C. fire and police departments to communicate with neighboring jurisdictions and allow the Metropolitan Police Department to upgrade to an 800-megahertz digital system in about three years.
The upgrades will include new transmitters and antennas in the Metrorail tunnels to allow firefighters and police officers to communicate underground. The Metrorail upgrade has been considered for almost three years after a fire in the tunnel near the Foggy Bottoms station revealed fire department radios would not work underground.
This is the first time OCTO, which has been involved in upgrading the city's computers and phone system, has taken on the job of fixing a public-safety radio system.
City officials involved with the program say OCTO's lack of experience with emergency systems is creating problems, and that OCTO and its consultants have ignored the advice and expertise of the people who have been running the systems for years.
OCTO has been working since January to replace police radio equipment and install new antennas for the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. But OCTO official do not have a contract in place for Motorola to provide the equipment and do not have leases signed for the new antennas.
City officials who are involved with the radio upgrade said OCTO spent the last eight months studying the radio system rather than using studies already completed.
"This is just a radio-system upgrade. They want to start over from scratch," a city official said.
Peter Roy, deputy director of OCTO, admitted they were behind schedule, but that they should have the improvements in place by Sept. 30, 2003.
The radio improvements are being funded with $46 million in federal homeland-security money that must be spent by the end of the District's current fiscal year. But only $31.1 million is budgeted for the radio systems.
"We are trying to project the [completion] schedule for the end of July," said Mr. Roy. "We are in the middle of negotiations [with Motorola]. We are still negotiating for some of the private sites [for installation of the new antennas]."
Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Fire Fighters Association, said he has not received a straight answer on the amount of money already spent by OCTO or why there is a holdup on contracting with Motorola. The city needs to contract with Motorola because it is necessary for the radio system to be compatible with existing equipment in the District and other local agencies.
Lt. Sneed said that he is concerned that OCTO will overspend, and that the radio system, which has been plagued with problems, will not be fixed.
"What I'm afraid of is, once the money is spent and it [the radio system] is not a finished product, OCTO and their consultants will just go away and the firefighters will be stuck with an inferior product," Lt. Sneed said.
"You don't know how they are spending their money or how much they have spent," he said.
Lt. Sneed said a request for information under Freedom of Information Act to OCTO has gone unanswered.
Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said the city received $46 million in federal homeland-security grants to improve communications. She said all that money can go to the radio system, but she would like to spend some for other public-safety communications upgrades.
Mrs. Kellems also said the upgrade will be completed by the end of the fiscal year next September.
"If we have to have 24-7 shifts," she said, "it will be done."


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