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The Motorola digital trunked radio system used by the City of Philadelphia has been plagued with chronic problems since 2004. Last night the $62 million system failed again and was offline for approximately 45 minutes. The cause is under investigation. This is the 15th catastrophic failure in about 3 years.

There is speculation that the failure is related to a lightening strike that caused damage to a Motorola site controller on Monday. Maintenance was performed at 10am on Tuesday, just hours before the systemwide failure occurred.

City officials say the problems began Monday, when lightning apparently hit a radio tower in Roxborough. Motorola technicians made repairs Tuesday morning, but one of the trunking site controllers failed about 9 hours later, and then the backup failed. At 9:37 Tuesday night, dispatchers lost communication with police officers, just as the police commissioner himself was calling in for help at a street fight. And then another backup failed. Dispatchers and officers finally resorted to plan “D”– mobile data terminals, or MDT’s, in patrol cars. “Usually you would like to say if you had two or three backups that would be enough,” Everett Gillison, the deputy mayor for public safety explained. “Right now we have four, and maybe have to design a fifth. That’s unacceptable.”

Motorola technicians worked through the night to make repairs. But this isn’t the first time their technology has failed Philadelphia. Cops have been complaining about the radio system for years. Wednesday, city officials made clear: Motorola is now on a short leash. “Motorola has a very short period of time to make it right, period,” Gillison insisted. Motorola wants $30 million to upgrade the six year old radio system.

Philadelphia is home to more than 1.4 million residents and covers approximately 135 square miles.

Click on the following links to learn about the history of failures with Philadelphia’s digital trunked radio system.

  • Philadelphia gives $36M to Motorola to upgrade obsolete 6 year old digital radio system (12/11/2008)
  • Philadelphia – July crash of radio system laid to faulty maintenance (12/11/2008)
  • Philadelphia police radio system will cost $40 million to upgrade (12/11/2008)
  • Philadelphia firefighters sue Motorola, one wins settlement (07/24/08)
  • Link to TV news video of Philadelphia Police statement of no confidence in Motorola digital trunked radio system (07/23/08)
  • Link to TV news video of Philadelphia City officials statement regarding the 15th failure of the Motorola digital trunked radio system (07/23/08)
  • Link to TV news video of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Ramsey commenting on digital trunked radio system failure (07/23/08)
  • Link to TV news video about another failure of the Philadelphia digital trunked radio system (07/23/08)
  • Philadephia digital trunked radio system fails again (PDF) (07/23/08)
  • Philadelphiia police back online after radio system outage (07/23/08)
  • Philadelphia needs multi-million dollar radio system upgrades (2008)
  • Philadelphia – Police radio system fails (2008)
  • Philadelphia Fire – We buried guys because of faulty radios (2008)
  • Philadelphia firefighters want faulty radio system fixed (2006)
  • Philadelphia digital trunked radio system failure (2004)