NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The nation's darkest day helped illuminate a terrible flaw in our ability to communicate during a major crisis. Incompatible systems and swamped public networks helped add to the already-grim death toll. And while there have been many vows to fix the problem over the past 10 years, a report card this week still gives our emergency communications systems an F. "A decade after 9/11, the nation is not yet prepared for a truly catastrophic disaster," said a report released Wednesday by the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Security Preparedness Group.
The same however, cannot be said about New York City. Maybe it is because New York operates under the assumption that it is a top target of terrorists. Or quite possibly it's because Mayor Mike Bloomberg -- an IT industry giant -- runs the city with technology as a top item on the agenda. But whatever the reason, New York has not waited idly for a federal solution to its emergency communications system. NYCWiN While each city agency -- fire, police, emergency management, Port Authority, Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Environmental Protection -- have overhauled their communications systems since 9/11, probably the most sweeping change has been overseen by the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. In 2006, the agency started work on a wireless broadband network called New York City Wireless Network (NYCWiN). The network, run by Northrop Grumman ( NOC), uses IPWireless 3G and 4G LTE equipment. According to the city, the network is comprised of 400 cell sites in all five boroughs and covers more than 300 square miles. It's a high-speed data network that serves all city agencies, but was designed as a separate and secure network for first responders. As a broadband system, it provides services like streaming video and big file deliveries like maps, mug shots and fingerprints.
"You have to remember that 10 years ago, not everyone had a cell phone; now we use many devices and data services. Voice communications isn't necessarily the first thing you think about," said DoITT spokesman Nicholas Sbordone. And while other major cities like Chicago and San Francisco have designed their own comprehensive, multi-agency emergency communications systems, the goal of a national solution still seems very far off.