Philadelphia to get $34M upgrade for emergency radio system


By David Gambacorta
The Philadelphia Daily News

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Philadelphia cops, firefighters and prison officials will receive about 2,700 new radios as part of a proposed upgrade to the city's Motorola emergency radio system.

The new radios are among several other perks included in the upgrade that Frank Punzo, deputy commissioner for the Department of Public Property, will detail to City Council today.

Punzo will reintroduce an ordinance for the $34 million upgrade because the city now plans to lease the new equipment and technology from Motorola over four years.

"This allows us to stretch out the cost a little bit, as opposed to the initial plan to pay it off over two years," Punzo said.

Much of the upgrade will be paid with money from the state's "911 Fund," which is used for law enforcement communication needs.

All of the city's firefighters will get new radios, which will be colored yellow to make them easier to spot in case they are dropped or lost at fire scenes, Punzo noted.

The remaining new radios will be divided between cops and the city's prisons.

Punzo said the prisons, which currently rely on outdated analog radios, will be able to link up with the citywide digital Motorola system after the upgrade.

The city will also receive 50 digitial repeaters, which will boost reception in "dead spots" for signals and allow firefighters to maintain communications whether they go underground or up in high rises, Punzo said.

The planned upgrade has the support of police and fire unions - an idea that was once unthinkable. Union officials loudly criticized the exisiting $62 million Motorola system because of a seemingly endless series of malfunctions and crashes.

Dave Kearney, a recording secretary for Firefighters Local 22, said the upgrade represents "a step forward, not sideways. Sometimes, these things do progress."

Because of the maligned history of the current Motorola system, Punzo said he expects public hearings will be held before the upgrade is approved by City Council. *

Copyright 2009 Philadelphia Newspapers, LLC

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