Radio deal to increase compatibility

In an effort to make sure their calls actually get through, the Justice and Treasury departments have decided to spend up to $3 billion during the next five years to buy 30,000 compatible radios.

A half-dozen companies have agreed to produce radios that will communicate with one another despite being produced on different assembly lines. "For the first time, we have a standard, and if the manufacturers design to that standard, the radios will interoperate," said Jim Ridgell, a vice president at EFJohnson Co., one of the selected manufacturers.

Radio incompatibility has been an ongoing problem for law enforcement and emergency response agencies, said John Cohen, a former police officer who is now president and chief executive officer of PSComm LLC, a consulting firm.

Justice and Treasury have been working to bring state and local governments and companies together in an effort to boost interoperability. "They have been driving this from a federal perspective," he said.

Ridgell said the contract with Justice and Treasury will enable subsidiary agencies such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI, the Customs Service, U.S. Marshals, Border Patrol and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to buy compatible radios and low- power repeater stations.

The radios will be built to meet standards established under Project 25, a multiyear effort by federal agencies to adopt common radio standards.

The new radios will feature digital technology and transmission, Ridgell said, and be capable of more complex encryption of transmissions than previous radios, an important feature for secure communications.

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