This month has seen several reminders of the failures associated with September 11, 2001, including technological failures, and the long efforts to make sure they do not happen again.
The city’s new emergency operations center opened in Downtown Brooklyn. The primary goal of the new center
is to utilize advanced technologies to improve coordination of emergency
response efforts in the case of a large-scale disaster .
The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced new plans for a final cleanup in lower Manhattan of buildings contaminated by dust after the terrorist attack â€“- plans that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and others called inadequate. Although
this is primarily a political and public health debate, technological shortcomings
lie at the heart of it. Previous cleanup efforts failed because the agency
was unable to distinguish reliably between trade center dust and other contaminants
Starting next month, police, firefighters and other emergency responders will have for their use a new high speed wireless data network, at first activated only in lower Manhattan, but due to spread throughout the city by the Spring of 2008. In effect, New York City is investing $500 million with the defense and technology company Northrop
Grumman to ensure that the communications
breakdowns that occurred on September 11, 2001 never happen again .
9/11 Communications Breakdowns
As has been well documented, there were several communications failures
on September 11, 2001. Although both police officers and firefighters responded
heroically, there is no doubt that inadequate communications caused unnecessary
Many fire department radios either did not work at all, or only intermittently.
Radios did not work well in high-rise buildings, subways or tunnels, and
firefighters had difficulty determining which channel to use to relay information.
Even with perfect communications equipment, the chaos on September 11 would
have caused tremendous mayhem and carnage. But the equipment was far from
On the whole, police department radios were more reliable than the fire
department’s radios. But police transmissions were hard to decipher in
the immediate aftermath of the attack. Officers attempted to use their
cell phones, but this was an unreliable mode of communication as well.
Since September 11 both the Police and Fire Departments have improved their
communications capabilities. The Fire Department in particular has upgraded
its radios, and invested in better equipment for boosting
radio signals to the upper floors of high rise buildings.
Handheld radios are likely to remain the tool of choice for first responders
for the next several years. But even the most sophisticated radio feels
somewhat antique in our technologically advanced age.
City Hall’s contract
with Northrop Grumma, to build a first-ever Citywide Mobile Wireless Network,
will greatly enhance emergency response capabilities.
The Citywide Mobile Wireless Network
In September, the Bloomberg administration announced that Northrop Grumman had won a five-year contract to build the Citywide Mobile Wireless Network. The company defeated rival
Motorola to capture the bid.
The wireless network will allow emergency responders to transmit
information efficiently from state and federal anti-terrorism databases, as well as
mug shots, fingerprints, and even streaming video. If necessary, information
could be shared with multiple agencies simultaneously. During times of
crisis, police officers, firefighters, and personnel from the Office of
Emergency Management should be assured of reliable two-way communication
between first responders on the scene and response managers at remote locations.
And during routine periods, these enhanced capabilities should streamline
communications and improve emergency response times. The network will be
designed with the flexibility to work in sections of the city where wireless
access is less reliable.
the most important lessons learned from the September 11th attacks was that
our emergency responders need better access to information and clearer lines
of communication in the field,” Mayor Bloomberg said.
In that spirit, a critical aspect of the new wireless network is that everyone
in the emergency response arena will utilize it. This baseline fact should
mitigate against departmental turf wars.
Northrop Grumman is scheduled to deliver a fully functioning wireless network
by the spring of 2008. After that time, the company will maintain the network
and provide appropriate upgrades. If the project proves a success, city officials have the option to renew the contract for up to 10 additional years.
Public Safety -- NYC's Niche For Wireless?
With the Northrop Grumman contract, City Hall clearly aims to be on the forefront
of public safety wireless initiatives. Indeed, New York claims that this
is the “most aggressive public safety technology initiative of any municipality.”
Some are skeptical since New York has
moved much less aggressively than other cities to provide free or inexpensive
wireless access to tourists and residents. Indeed, Information Technology
and Communications Commissioner Cosgrave argues that it is not “feasible
or necessary” to provide wireless access throughout the city.
Wireless activists and government officials will continue to debate the
appropriate extent of public wireless access, and the ultimate results of
that discussion are unclear. What seems more certain is City Hall’s desire to fill a specific niche as the leader in the use of wireless technology for public
The comments section is provided as a free service to our readers. Gotham Gazette's editors reserve the right to delete any comments. Some reasons why comments might get deleted: inappropriate or offensive content, off-topic remarks or spam.