The city has awarded defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., a $500 million contract to build a wireless network that will let police and firefighters plug into city computer systems, even when they are rushing to emergencies.
Police hunting for a suspect would be able to download a mug shot or view surveillance video. Fire chiefs might use the system to map the location of each unit or see around a wall of smoke and flames by getting live aerial footage of a burning building, beamed in from a hovering helicopter.
Other city officials could even use the system to read water meters or alter traffic light cycles to relieve vehicle congestion.
Northrop said it would take five years to finish building the small radio antennas that will stretch the system across more than 300 square miles, but the network is expected to be operational by spring 2008.
Once complete, the network will work a lot like a giant version of the wireless routers people use for laptop computers in their homes.
The city picked Northrop over the telecommunications company Motorola Inc. after a six-month, $2.7 million test of their competing systems in lower Manhattan. The $500 million price tag covers the cost of building the network and operating it for five years.
Similar wireless networks are being built in hundreds of cities and towns around the country, but New York's system will be for government use only and will come with some of the high-grade security protections that Northrop offers military clients, said Hugh Taylor, the McLean, Va.-based president of the company's commercial, state and local group.