By Jennifer Lin
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER 10-4-04
Both the Philadelphia Police and Fire departments reported problems over the weekend with the city’s new, Motorola public-safety radio system.
For 15 hours last Sunday, firefighters said their radio messages were cut short. The police department, meanwhile, said radio communication from one police division wrongly migrated onto a citywide radio band.
The weekend problems were just the latest glitches with the $54-million Motorola radio system, which was installed for firefighters two years ago and police officers last year.
Since the start of this year, the police department has reported at least four episodes of interrupted radio coverage, while the fire department has received increasing complaints from the field about blocked radio transmissions.
Chief Willie Williams, a spokesman for the fire department, said the communication problems last Sunday stretched from 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“Parts of transmissions were chopped off or clipped,” Williams said. To adjust, fire personnel had to repeat messages, he said.
“It’s my understanding Motorola corrected that problem by replacing a defective piece of equipment,” Williams said.
Cpl. James Pauley, a police spokesman, said that from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. last Sunday, radio communication from the 25th police district bled onto a citywide band.
“We went to our back-up system,” Pauley said. “There were no loss to police service. It was no big deal.”
The weekend incidents come at a time when city officials are scrutinizing the Motorola radio system.
Last week, City Council held a second hearing on radio problems. The City Controller’s office, meanwhile, has launched an audit of the city’s contract with Motorola Inc. to make sure public safety agencies are getting what they paid for.
In 1999, Motorola was awarded a $54-million contract to outfit all city agencies with a radio system operating on the 800 megahertz band of radio frequency spectrum.
At the City Council hearing, Motorola said they are working closely with fire and police officials to correct problems. Last month, the company reprogrammed software for every police radio in service.
The fire department, however, has received an increasing number of complaints about block radio communication at fire scenes. Since the Motorola system went into service in October 2002, the fire department has received 50 reports of communication problems – but 20 of those have been filed in the past three months.
Technicians are studying whether cell-phone towers could be interfering with radio communication. Some cell-phone carriers operate on radio frequencies next to public-safety channels.