Government Technology

New York Statewide Wireless Interoperable Communications Network Refocused on Regional Systems

April 5, 2009 By

Photo: Harry J. Corbitt, superintendent of the New York State Police, and state CIO Melodie Mayberry-Stewart will co-chair the Statewide Interoperability Advisory Council, formerly the Statewide Wireless Network. / Credit: New York State OFT/CIO

New York state spent the second half of the Bush Administration and over $100 million developing a statewide wireless network it was hoped would provide public safety and public service agencies across the state with interoperable communications only to go back to the drawing board earlier this month.

The network, which was expected to cost $2 billion, was the largest IT project in the state's history. The state Office for Technology awarded the contract to build the system to M/A-COM in April 2004. After problems with several rounds of testing the state officially terminated its contract with M/A-COM in January of this year.

During a testing period in November 2008 the network had 14.5 cumulative hours of down time, which is well above the U.S. standard of just 52.6 minutes per year. Nearly a third of the radios had malfunctioned, a spokeswoman for OFT told Government Technology in January.

And so the New York State's Statewide Interoperability Advisory Council met in late March to discuss the path forward. State CIO Melodie Mayberry-Stewart announced the appointment of Harry J. Corbitt, superintendent of the New York State Police as co-chairman of a refocused advisory council, and representatives of first responders provided their perspectives on moving forward.

A revised governance structure for the advisory committee will include an implementation steering committee composed of first responders who will be very involved in the deployment of the systems, Mayberry-Stewart said. The advisory board will also oversee the award of Public Safety Interoperable Communications grants, said Col. Steven Cuomaletti with the New York State Police. He sees opportunities to optimize federal stimulus funds that are tied to interoperable communications at the state and local levels. The state is committed to being part of federal homeland security committees that set policies and make funding recommendations.

According to Tom Gallagher, interoperability project coordinator for the New York State Office of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Communications has allocated $400 million a year for competitive grants to be awarded in each of the next three years. Of that $1.2 billion in funding over three years, 80 percent of it will be awarded to counties and 20 percent will be awarded to states. "So the more regional programs you've got the better", he said.

"As appropriate and in line with guidelines from use of stimulus money from Washington we would at least like to look into broadband initiatives that have public safety implications and might relate to our interoperability goals and priorities," said Nancy Perry, acting statewide interoperability program director.

While officials acknowledged the setback which the termination of the contact with M/A-COM presented, they were also optimistic opportunities to utilize newer technology and improve governance of cross-jurisdictional communication and data sharing would come from it. For example, instead of building a statewide communications network and offering to connect counties and other local governments to it, the state would work to facilitate the development of regional networks that connected groups of partnering counties thereby improving its usefulness.

Several counties had no desire to participate in the statewide wireless network, according to Perry. "The new strategic road map we are pursuing de-emphasizes the one-size-fits-all notion and envisions an interconnected system of systems," she said.

"Under the state's plan up until this point, local service providers would only be participating in the state plan on a voluntary basis, which could turn out to be a serious flaw in the overall

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