Radio troubles hinder state patrol : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Published Wednesday, February 23, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Radio troubles hinder state patrol

Problem's source hasn't been found


Fate smiled on some South Florida traffic scofflaws Tuesday, after a glitch intermittently disabled radio communications for the Florida Highway Patrol.

Some moving violators got a stern look -- but no blue lights -- after troopers were told to make only the most necessary traffic stops, because FHP supervisors didn't want officers making potentially dangerous stops and having to worry about whether their radios would work.

The glitch affected hundreds of FHP troopers and other state police from Key West to Orlando.

``It was definitely serious,'' said Larry Austin, the Tallahassee-based FHP chief who oversees all agency operations in South Florida. ``Any time you lose a significant portion of the system we've come to rely on, that's cause for concern.''

Though agency technicians worked on the problem throughout the day Tuesday, Austin said they were unsure that they had isolated the cause of the problem, and don't know for certain if it's fixed.

The order to halt unnecessary stops was in effect during the times FHP definitely knew the system was down, starting Monday afternoon and continuing into Tuesday. FHP officials said troopers ended up ignoring minor violations -- busted taillights or expired tags, for example -- but obviously would have stopped someone putting other drivers in danger.

``We don't have any numbers yet, but obviously there were fewer and fewer stops because of concerns for officers' safety and public safety,'' said FHP Lt. Ernie Duarte, an agency spokesman in Miami. Duarte said the system was back to normal Tuesday night.

But a Miami-based police union chief said he was worried about trooper safety as long as there's no certainty of reliable communications.

``The problem is that the system still doesn't work the right way,'' said Miami FHP Cpl. Ed Hotaling, who is also president of the FHP chapter of the Police Benevolent Association. If the problem continues, Hotaling said, ``we're going to wind up getting one of our officers killed.''

The problems, which began Monday afternoon and grew through the evening, also affected other state law enforcement agencies in the network, including Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Alcohol and Tobacco, and Motor Carrier Compliance officers.


The problems prompted system technicians to warn of a possible ``catastrophic failure'' early Tuesday morning. Technicians and officials from Motorola -- which sold the state the equipment and helps maintain it -- spent the day troubleshooting and fixing problems and the network seemed to be getting better Tuesday, Austin said. But as of late in the day, the exact source of the problems had not been found.

One of the most serious problems happened when technicians tried to link two ``regional controllers'' -- basically computers that route radio calls -- in Miami and Orlando, said FHP spokesman Chuck Williams. When the hardware was hooked up, the computers that operate the controllers wouldn't talk to each other, Williams said.

The glitches ultimately caused the system to be taken out of service completely for about nine minutes at about 10 a.m. Then, about an hour later, it crashed unexpectedly in Central Florida for about five minutes, disabling communications all over the southern half of the state.


``It is kind of spooky when you lose the whole system,'' Williams said.

Duarte said that troopers, technicians, communications officers and supervisors scrambled to put backup plans in place, using a makeshift mutual aid network with other agencies to make sure FHP had at least partial communications.

During the worst of the problem, Duarte said, ``If someone was requesting a backup two blocks away, I couldn't hear them.''

State officials have been trying to build a statewide radio network for state police agencies since the mid 1980s. What began as a $167 million project grew in cost to $354 million statewide. But the network has been installed only in Central and South Florida, covering just under 50 percent of the land mass, but more than 50 percent of the population.

-- Martin Thompson (, February 23, 2000

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