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Troubled Navy Yard Radio System Was Operated by Army

Law enforcement personnel walk through a gate into the Washington Navy Yard.

Law enforcement personnel walk through a gate into the Washington Navy Yard. // Susan Walsh/AP

The Navy land mobile radio system, which experienced failures during the Sept. 16 Navy Yard shootings in Washington, is operated by the Army, not the Navy, Nextgov has learned.

A Navy official who declined to be identified told Nextgov that the LMR system used by Naval District of Washington -- or NDW -- first responders is part of an Army LMR system that serves the National Capital Region. “We are part of the Army system, NDW manages the Navy talk groups and radios, we share the Army and Navy towers for first responder roaming, and we serve as the backup site on the servers.  The Navy towers are on the Navy Public Safety Network and are connected to the Army system via a dedicated circuit.”

Greg Russell, president of the union local that represents NDW firefighters, said firefighters since 2009 have documented problems with the radios that “fill a three inch file,” with those complaints largely ignored by district managers.

Reps. Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo, both California Democrats, requested an investigation of the radio failures in a Sept. 23 letter to the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Waxman is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Eshoo is ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

The Navy official said the service executed a $7 million contract last week to upgrade the radios used by NDW personnel.

She said the contract covered the purchase of 1,075 portable radios, 215 mobile units and 15 console radios. She said the new radios will have a longer battery life than existing radios, which died after two to three hours of use at the Navy Yard on Sept. 16.

The new radios will also support interoperability between agencies on the Army-run, Washingtonwide system; encrypted communications; and dual microphones for use in noisy environments with rugged and immersion-proof cases.

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