The city of Philadelphia's police radio system encountered two 15-second outages on Feb. 23 after a Verizon Communications technician inadvertently took out of service a T-1 line that provided backhaul for the system. Verizon immediately accepted responsibility for the error and confirmed that the outages had nothing to do with the 800 MHz system deployed by Motorola.

“Its frustrating,” said Verizon spokeswoman Sharon Shaffer. “People work very hard and are committed to keeping this at a high level of operating efficiency, and this was just a mistake. But we have to own up to it, and we did.”

A commercial customer had called Verizon to report problems with its T-1 line. The Verizon technician dispatched to the scene typed the wrong identification code for the line, which resulted in the police department's line wrongly being taken out of service for testing. The radio system immediately went into backup mode, according to John McFadden, a special advisor to Motorola.

“The system worked as designed,” McFadden said. “When the line goes down, it switches over automatically to a backup controller, and you don't lose any information. It takes about 15 seconds for the hand-off to occur.”

Frank Punzo, communications superintendent in the city's Department of Public Property, which owns the radio system, said the outages didn't disrupt police operations.

“The conversations I've had with the folks at police indicated that there was no disruption from the perspective of calls in progress,” Punzo said. “It was probably more of an annoyance to the dispatcher because … they can't take over a call in backup mode like they can in primary mode. But at the time this happened, there weren't any major incidents.”

The latest incident comes on the heels of three problems that occurred in December that the police department also blamed on Verizon. In one, a Verizon technician left a T-1 line used for backhaul in test mode. When the system flipped into backup mode — which it does every other day as a means of ensuring lines are working properly — the line was unavailable.

Charles Brennan, the police department's deputy commissioner of technology, was pleased that Verizon took immediate ownership of the latest snafu.

“The real worth of a vendor is not so much that nothing is going to go wrong, because on a big project like this — I think it was $52 million — things are going to go wrong,” Brennan said. “It's how they respond when things go wrong. That's how I measure a vendor. They don't hide their heads in the sand. Good vendors step up to the plate and say, ‘We screwed up, we'll fix it,’ and Verizon to their credit did that.”

Nevertheless, Brennan hopes Verizon will put additional protocols in place that will prevent such an occurrence in the future.

“They should have the technician double-check with someone before the line gets pulled,” Brennan said. “I know that when I go to a pharmacy, my prescription is double-checked before it's handed to me.”

Verizon currently is working with Motorola to work out the kinks, a process that will involve testing every circuit provided by the carrier to the city.

The evaluation was scheduled to conclude March 10, and Shaffer vowed results.

“We're feeling the pain of this, too,” Shaffer said. “We simply will continue to review with every employee who has anything to do with the city's account, so there's an assurance that everybody understands that procedures need to be followed.”