NYC deal should boost Northrop's wireless business, exec says

In a move to fix one of the most visible shortcomings in emergency response during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York has hired Northrop Grumman Corp. to build a wireless, broadband public safety communications network that will let the city's emergency personnel communicate in real-time.

The five-year, $500 million contract, which also has 10 option years, calls for Northrop Grumman's McLean-based information technology division to build an interoperable communications system that will let New York's police, fire, Transportation Department and Office of Emergency Management communicate with each other, even in the event of a catastrophe. The city also will make the network accessible to state and federal public safety agencies.

The Citywide Mobile Wireless Network is already being built in lower Manhattan, where it will be fully operational by January 2007. The communications system will be implemented citywide by spring 2008, Northrop Grumman IT president James O'Neill said.

"This will be a system that, please God, we won't have to use in a 9/11-like circumstance again," O'Neill said. "But if we do, the police, fire, emergency and the citizens of New York will be better served."

Northrop Grumman already has a pilot version of the system in lower Manhattan as part of the final stage of competition for the contract. Motorola Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill., the only other finalist for the contract, also built a pilot project, O'Neill said.

The pilot project allowed Northrop Grumman to test its system and ensure it would work in the city's sprawling subway network, which it will, O'Neill said. The communications system will use technology from IPWireless Inc., San Bruno, Calif., as its backbone.

Among the challenges of creating the system was to make it work throughout New York's landscape where skyscrapers create urban canyons. Another problem was to allow mobility, so that police racing to the scene of an emergency never lose contact with the system, O'Neill said.

Still, the largest challenge may be getting the system built on time with all its functionality, said Hugh Taylor, Northrop Grumman IT's commercial, state and local group president. The system will let officials control streetlights, pass architectural plans to inspectors and read water and power meters, Taylor said.

The system also will give first responders high-speed access to federal and state anti-crime and anti-terrorism databases, fingerprints, mug shots, city maps and streaming video.

While interfaces would have to be built to link the communications system to the city's other information systems, anything is possible, Taylor said.

"If the information is digitized, it could be passed on this network," he said.

Building interoperable wireless communications systems for city governments is a natural extension of Northrop Grumman's work constructing secure communications networks for military and intelligence clients, O'Neill said.

As Northrop Grumman continues to diversify its business, the company plans to pursue more state and local work, and already is in talks with other state and local governments for wireless public safety communications projects, Taylor said. He declined to name any potential clients.

There are numerous governments in the United States and Europe watching New York's progress, and success in New York could mean big business in the future, Taylor said.

"This is a huge win for Northrop Grumman, it is the franchise city," he said.

Northrop Grumman has about 125,000 employees and had $30.7 billion in fiscal 2005 revenue. The company ranks No. 2 on Washington Technology's 2006 Top 100 list of federal prime contractors.

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