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First responders not sold on digital radio systems

First responders not sold on digital radio systems

The story, “Years After Sept. 11, Critical Incidents Still Overload Emergency Radios”appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday afternoon. It talks about some of the problems that police departments and other first responders are having with their digital communications systems, despite spending billions of dollars on them.

The report includes recordings of the police officers expressing their frustration with the system. “I can’t transmit for some reason,” says one, and “We’re having trouble transmitting,” says another. Of course, what’s happening is that the system doesn’t have enough capacity when there’s a lot of traffic, as can happen in emergency situations when multiple police officers and multiple agencies are trying to use the system.

Motorola supplied the system described in the report. They contend that the system operated normally. The report notes, “Motorola Solutions wouldn’t agree to an interview about the complaints heard on the air in Broward County after the Feb. 14 shooting, but in an emailed statement it says the radio system there ‘did not crash and was operating as designed during very busy radio traffic.'” If they were operating as designed, it sounds to me like the design is faulty.

The story does note that user training is a big part of the system failing to meet expectations. In a digital system, continually trying to transmit when the system is already overloaded, only makes things worse. And, I would imagine, that officers probably should take a lesson from amateur radio operators in net operation.

Anyway, I’m not sure that there’s much more of an amateur radio angle here. This is the way that emergency services have decided to go in meeting their communications needs. It sounds like we’re spending an awful lot on these fancy digital communications systems, but I’m not sure we’re getting our money’s worth.


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