New York Signs $2 Billion Contract for Emergency Radio Service

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The state on Monday announced it signed its contract for a long controversial $2 billion radio communications system designed to allow emergency and public service crews to talk to each other during natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

M/A-COM, a business unit of Tyco Electronics, will design, build, operate and maintain the Statewide Wireless Network. It will be paid $2 billion over 20 years to provide a statewide system for emergency and public service crews. The company called it the largest statewide public safety communications project in the United States.

The system is aimed at ending chaos in emergencies such as ice storms, tornadoes and other natural and man-made disasters by providing all departments and agencies to speak to each other. The system will also provide communication in isolated parts of the state despite mountains and other impediments to clear signals.

The contract was disputed last year and the subject of Assembly hearings into the fairness of the competitive bidding surrounding it. Motorola, the losing bidder, testified Wednesday that it was stymied by ''rigid'' specifications that prohibited options that could save New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars and that would avoid the need to build hundreds of towers in the Adirondacks.

Good government advocates said the project was evidence of the need to reform Albany's closed-door world of procurement lobbying for state contracts, where lobbyists yield influence with little public accountability. M/A-Com said then it won the contract using the kind of innovation that was embraced by the Pataki administration, and with the guidance of the governor's mentor, former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

Last year, state officials refused to say how much the contract would cost. Based on a competitor's bid and other data, M/A-COM's bid was expected to be between $1.9 billion and $2.4 billion.

A state Office for Technology spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company's similar system was down for 30 hours in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, contributing to the problems with emergency response. The radio towers of the system lost their backup power generators in the ensuing flood. Some of the equipment could have been brought back up quickly, except that technicians were blocked from entering the submerged city for three days by state troopers who were themselves struggling with an overwhelmed radio system from a different manufacturer.

''Our system was down 30 hours entirely because we couldn't get access,'' said M/A-Com spokeswoman Victoria Dillon. ''It was so incredibly frustrating.''

She said New York's system will be built to withstand New York's counterparts to hurricanes, such as ice storms.

The system won't be operating for two years, when it will be online one region at a time.

Although New York City won't be on the system, its emergency and public service will be able to communicate directly into the state's system. The contract calls for the system to be operating statewide within five years.