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Renewed worries about police officer radios

April 8, 2011 5:21:31 PM PDT
Police officer's radios still do not work properly at railroad stations and tunnels in New York City nearly ten years after the September 11th terror attacks.

MTA and Port Authority police say the radio service at some of the prime targets for a terror attack is dangerously inadequate.

The radios are so bad that one police official says they may as well be carrying around a brick.

The dead zones and garbled transmissions have left many Port Authority and MTA police relying on their cell phones to call for help.

Even as the city's first responders spent the past week running drills in preparation for a future terror attacks, MTA and Port Authority police told a Senate Homeland Security Committee that their radios are extremely unreliable.

"It doesn't work in tunnels. It doesn't work on board trains. It doesn't work in buildings," Michael O'Meara of the MTA Police Union testified.

The radios for some 700 MTA police officers have not worked properly for more than 10 years. A document from one month before 9/11 shows the MTA police filed a complaint with the city's Labor Department saying their radios were "dangerously inadequate."

The federal government cited the MTA with a "serious" violation creating a "life threatening" work environment.

"The millions of commuters who count on us for police and medical service deserve better," O'Meara testified.

It's widely accepted that many first responders died on 9/11 because faulty radios prevented them from hearing emergency transmissions to evacuate.

The tenth year anniversary is just months away and many of those radio problems still exist.

"To get an emergency back-up to their location of terminal 5 at JFK Airport, a police officer has to call the police desk using a department issued cell phone," Robert Morris of the Port Authority Police Union testified.

The MTA says it has set aside more than $100-million to upgrade its emergency radio system. While it is still years from being completed, the work has begun.

"Once the radios are done, we will have the ability to talk back and forth with NYPD. So, it's coming," Douglas Zeigler, MTA Security Director, testified.

But the biggest fear among many MTA police officers and other first responders is that time could be running out.

The MTA has built a new dispatch center, even added additional towers, but a new radio system won't be selected until sometime this summer and it could be years before the system is fully operational.

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