Mayor Wants New Emergency Radio System

Houston Mayor Bill White is asking City Council to approve buying a new emergency radio system that will improve communication between emergency agencies in the city and the county. It'll be expensive — more than a hundred million dollars, as Jim Bell reports.

The mayor has signed a contract with Motorola, subject to City Council approval, for a state of the art radio system that will allow police, fire department, EMS and Public Works employees to communicate with each other, and with other jurisdictions. Houston Fire Captain and City Council Liaison Karen Dupont says their inability to communicate has been a glaring public safety problem for years. 

"What we're looking for is to be able to flip to citywide channel, or a community inter-face channel, and reach out to other organizations on scene. And we have a lot of organizations that provide emergency services in and around this city."

For years, Houston's periodic disaster drills have been marred by communications breakdowns because the radio equipment is so old and outdated. These failures have caused problems during real emergencies, like Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, and the hurricanes of 2005 and this year. The 100 million dollar plus price tag has been the biggest obstacle to fixing the problem, but Dupont says City Council has followed every phase of this project's development and she thinks they're ready to approve it. 

"Everyone is aware of the need for communication and the fact that our communications infra-structure is in desperate need of replacement. The fact of the matter is we have to do something. So if we're gonna do something let's do something that's gonna be good hopefully for several years and make the investment now."  

A vote on the Motorola contract isn't expected until next week, but if City Council approves it, it'll be the single largest equipment purchase in the city's history. Dupont says the money will come from the city's long-term capital improvement budget, from last year's surplus funds and from federal grants. 

Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.