Houston Moves Ahead with Emergency Radio Conversion

The single largest equipment procurement in Houston's history.

by / November 24, 2008


The administration of Houston Mayor Bill White announced that it has signed a contract, subject to City Council approval, to purchase a new radio system that would support all critical police, fire, EMS and public works functions. "At times during Hurricane Ike, our public safety radio system was the only reliable communication system available. That experience highlighted the need to replace our current, outmoded system," said White.

The new radio system will have more channels, allowing radio service used by local government to serve the needs of a growing community. It will have enhanced penetration into areas such as the interiors of buildings and basements, where fire and law enforcement professionals must operate. The new technology will be interoperable, allowing different functions -- such as Fire, Police and Public Works -- to communicate more effectively with each other within the city, and with users of the radios, such as sheriffs, constables and others who conform to the new American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards.

In Houston, the consolidation of Fire and Police dispatch within the Houston Emergency Center has allowed common information to be shared with both Police and Fire units. The new public safety radio system will enhance this interoperability.

According to White, "Houston has fought hard and successfully for federal funding to help defray the costs of a new public radio system compliant with the new federal standards, and now we will be the leader among the nation's large cities in deploying this new system."

Assistant Fire Chief Rick Flanagan added, "We need the additional channel capacity so that we don't have a firefighter in trouble who cannot get through because of congestion of the radio waves or interference from other signals, or outmoded equipment."

White signed a contract with Motorola following a competitive process that stretched throughout much of this year. Early in the Administration national consultants were brought in to consider alternatives, and recommended a new system requiring the city to migrate to 700/800 megahertz frequencies. In 2006-2007, the city of Houston received an allocation of these frequencies.

According to Tom Sorley, deputy director of the Information Technology Department's Radio Communications Services Division, who headed the technical evaluation of the various proposals, "We had two excellent proposals from two outstanding vendors. The Mayor personally participated in the bargaining sessions with each of the vendors over the last two months, and the city's price is lower by almost 30 percent than what had originally been estimated." Assuming 10,731 new radios in the field, which is the city's target within four years, the total basic cost of the Motorola system will be $107,873,462. Amounts set aside in the city's long-term capital improvement budget, when combined with federal grants and an amount earmarked from last year's surplus, should be sufficient to cover this cost, according to City Finance Director Michelle Mitchell.

Mayor White said the contract contained options to allow coverage in special areas such as the downtown tunnels and Reliant Stadium, where current coverage is difficult. In addition, said the mayor, "We worked with radio professionals at Harris County and CenterPoint and have built in options to allow participation by those entities at very good prices, if they choose to participate and reduce the total cost to all of us."

The mayor has periodically briefed City Council members at public sessions concerning the progress of this procurement. This will be the single largest equipment procurement in Houston's history. "This just shows our commitment to public safety," according to the mayor.