Florida agencies seek clarity on LMR system amid tightening timelines
Florida state officials indicate that they are talking with L3Harris about extending the statewide LMR contract, while at least one state agency has expressed concerns that the aging network deal is due to expire in 17 months, with no publicly stated long-term replacement plan and state legislators scheduled to end their annual session tomorrow.
Almost two years ago, the Florida Department of Managed Services (DMS) selected Motorola Solutions as its vendor to build a statewide P25 system to replace the current Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS), which uses EDACS technology provided by L3Harris that is scheduled to expire at the end of Jun 2021. But Motorola Solution declined to sign a contract based on its bid, forcing state officials to consider alternative plans.
Patrick Gillespie, deputy secretary of business operations for Florida DMS, told board members of the Florida Joint Task Force—the state entity that provides advice about SLERS—during a Feb. 25 meeting that state officials are “evaluating our options, and we’re having conversations with the legislature about next steps … We’re actively trying to figure out how to move forward quickly.”
During the Feb. 25 meeting, Gillespie declined to speculate what alternative approach would be supported by the Florida state legislature, which is scheduled to end tomorrow. However, Gillespie acknowledged that some sort of extension to the existing deal with L3Harris needs to be part of the plan.
“We’re starting to have those conversations with Harris [L3Harris],” Gillespie said during the Feb. 25 meeting, according to a video of the proceedings viewed yesterday by IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
“Obviously, we knew that we were going to have to engage in a renewal to prepare for a transition. So, we’re going to start having those conversations with them to see what that renewal period looks like, and then we’re going to be looking at how quickly we can possibly procure the next system.”
Florida DMS officials did not respond to inquiries from IWCE’s Urgent Communications about an update to the status of the SLERS situation since the Feb. 25 meeting of the Florida Joint Task Force board to be included in this article.
L3Harris also declined comment in response to a question from IWCE’s Urgent Communications seeking confirmation that company representatives have had discussions with Florida officials about the future of the SLERS.
In the January letter to Motorola Solutions that marked the formal end of contract discussions, Florida DMS Secretary Jonathan Satter wrote that Florida DMS would “move toward the new procurement of a next-generation system.” To date, Florida DMS has not responded to multiple inquiries from IWCE’s Urgent Communications seeking clarification about what technology would be used in a “next-generation system.”
A new procurement of a P25 system theoretically is an option, but many industry observers note that P25 is not really a “next-generation” technology and the same contractual language that bothered Motorola Solutions likely would be a problem with other venders—in fact, L3Harris expressed concern with it early in the bidding process. In addition, LMR procurements typically take years to complete, and the buildout time for a statewide network like SLERS also would be lengthy, unless existing towers were utilized almost exclusively.
LTE-based technologies like PoC and MCPTT are much newer and fit the “next-generation” mold, but they are unproven in mission-critical, public-safety scenarios.
Whatever decision DMS and Florida legislators make, the state agencies that depend on SLERS for primary communications need clarity as soon as possible, according to Col. Gene Spaulding, chairman of the Florida Joint Task Force board and director of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP).
“What’s going to be our plan [on] July 1, 2021? That’s the critical issue,” Spaulding said during the Feb. 25 meeting. “We’re at a critical state right now. If, for some reason, the decision is to come back and re-procure, we all know that that’s a three- or four-year process.”
Spaulding cited numerous “serious concerns,” including who would maintain the existing subscriber radios on the aging EDACS system, noting that FHP has mobile radios that are 20 years old and portable radios that are more than 17 years old—more than three times the life expectancy of the radios. These devices continue to function with the help of contracted maintenance, but Spaulding said that arrangement is due to expire next summer, when the EDACS network was scheduled to be retired.
“[At FHP,] we’re paying $900,000 per year in a maintenance contract to keep our radios maintained,” Spaulding said. “Therefore, when you ask, ‘How many radios do you have that are broke right now?’ our answer is ‘None.’
“But, as soon as we lose that maintenance contract July 1, by Aug. 1, it’s going to be a high number. By Sept. 1, it’s going to be a higher number, because we’re not going to have replacement parts, and we’re not going to have a maintenance contract in place. Those are some very serious concerns.”
State agencies also need clarification in other areas, such as who will own the network after the existing contract with L3Harris expires, as well as the logistics involved if non-EDACS radios were introduced into the state’s LMR system, according to Spaulding.
“We have … concerns about integrating some patchwork radios that could come into our system, where we might get 300 radios or 500 radios and trying to integrate those in,” he said. “Now, we’re running cars with two radios, and we’ve got to have training with two different sets [of radio systems].
“There are a lot of issues that are very, very concerning, especially in the age that we’re in about interoperability and being able to communicate with our partners.”
In addition, Spaulding noted that Florida officials are facing some notable time challenges, especially if any changes are made to the statewide communications network that require legislative approval.
Because this is an election year, the Florida Legislature is meeting early in the year and is scheduled to conclude its session tomorrow. The legislature would not meet again until later next year, leaving little time to implement any new policies before the existing SLERS contract is set to expire.
“I know we have a late [legislative] session next year, so the session won’t be ending until the 1st of May,” Spaulding said. “That only gives us about two months to do something between July 1 and the end of [the legislative] session next year.”