Useful Wireless Emergency System Or Political Boondoggle?
By Mike Masnick, Tue Jun 01 23:00:00 GMT 2004

NYC wants a big new fancy wireless emergency system. Do they really need it or can they get by with what already exists?

New York City is no stranger to wireless technologies. There's Wi-Fi almost everywhere, there's plenty of choices in cellular providers (with an occasional dead spot). Even Ricochet came (quite literally) to the wireless rescue in the days after September 11th (though, its current status is a bit unclear).

Mayor Bloomberg has decided that the law enforcement and emergency crews in NYC need their own special wireless network, that can't be built off of just any old network. Instead, they appear to be parading through all the big names (Sprint, Motorola, Nextel, Lucent, Verizon Wireless and approximately 150 other companies) to pitch a solution that will do everything. What does "everything" include? That's not entirely clear, either, but that does not appear to be slowing down the bidding process. There are some vague ideas being thrown about for what would clearly be useful services, such as quickly sending images of wanted suspects to all police cars in a certain area or giving firefighters immediate access to building blueprints when needed. However, it's unclear which of these features requires an entirely new network.

While better safety and law enforcement networks are obviously a good thing for public safety, this has all the hallmarks of a classic political mess. It has grand concepts that no one would ever be against ("look who voted against public safety!"), it has no clearly defined goals that have been laid out (at least not publicly) and it has all the big companies pushing each other aside to get a piece of the action.

It seems like a smarter plan might be to leverage infrastructure that's already there (including all the things mentioned above) or to look at ways that many of these things could already be accomplished without setting out some big greenfield project when it's unclear that it's really necessary.