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Old 04-09-2008, 8:59 AM
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Default Police radio system fails

Police radio system fails - years after it was supposed to be fixed
By DAVID GAMBACORTA
Philadelphia Daily News

gambacd@phillynews.com 215-854-5994

AYOUNG CRACK dealer unleashed a torrent of bullets from the dry-rotted window of his East Frankford flophouse, dropping two undercover narcotics cops in seconds.

On the bitterly cold night of Nov. 13, 2007, a veteran Highway Patrol officer was the first to reach one of the shot cops, who had a bullet lodged in his hip.

For 30 nerve-wracking minutes, he used his Motorola police radio to try to talk to other officers while he transported the wounded cop.

Silence.

For 15 minutes, another cop racing from North Philadelphia to the shooting scene used her radio to find out what was going on.

Silence.

Finally, she used her cell phone.

The Daily News found that the radio problems in East Frankford that night were among more than a dozen other malfunctions, mix-ups and crashes that have occurred with the Motorola system since 2005 - the same year that city officials declared that they had fixed most problems with the $62 million radio system.

Critics say that the system is still more complicated than firefighters and cops need it to be, and remains a serious liability in times of crisis.

Two years ago, in one of the most serious malfunctions, the Police Department had to rely on a backup system for three days, and kept officers in two-car teams because of safety concerns.

Problems continued as recently as March 15, when screeching noises were heard on radios in North Philadelphia and cops in the Northeast couldn't communicate with police dispatchers, police officials said.

Other critics say that the city has failed to act on several key recommendations that were included in a 2005 audit of the Motorola system done by the City Controller's Office.

"We literally have several binders and folders full of information about reported radio problems," said John McGrody, a Fraternal Order of Police vice president who investigates cops' complaints about the system.

"The bottom line is that the rank-and-file still have no confidence in the system. It's their main lifeline out there if they get in trouble, but you know what? Help can't arrive if the radios don't work. Someone's going to get hurt."

A rocky history

For more than three decades, police and firefighters in Philadelphia had relied on an analog radio system maintained by the city.

By the mid-1990s, city officials felt that the system was outdated, so they solicited proposals on a more modern radio system from Motorola, Ericsson-GE Corp. and E.F. Johnson. The city signed a contract with Motorola in 1999.

Three years later, cops and firefighters officially started using Motorola's 800-megahertz digital system, which came with a $54.8 million price tag that later rose to $62 million.

Motorola's system promised to be better in almost every way imaginable, offering, among other things:

_ Citywide coverage for portable radios carried by cops and firefighters.

_ Encryption technology that allowed cops and firefighters to talk on channels that criminals couldn't eavesdrop on.

_ Better radio coverage inside buildings.

_ Interoperability, a mechanism that would allow cops and firefighters to communicate directly with one another in event of a disaster.

But complaints arose immediately from cops and firefighters on the street.

The digital system, which used a computerized controller to assign talk space to users as it became available, had a major downside: If a bunch of cops or firefighters all tried to use their radios at the same time during an emergency, they heard busy signals, called "bonks."

The radios came with emergency buttons that were supposed to give cops or firefighters 10 seconds of clear air on all nearby radios, creating priority over all other transmissions.

But the emergency buttons were flawed, too. When firefighter Leon Phipps was trapped in a West Philadelphia house fire in April 2004, his emergency button didn't work when he screamed for help, he claimed afterward. Phipps, 53, suffered career-ending injuries in the blaze, and Motorola eventually settled a lawsuit with him.

In August 2004, Capt. John Taylor, 53, and firefighter Rey Rubio, 42, died in the basement of a Port Richmond rowhouse fire. Taylor's radio malfunctioned when he tried to call for help, according to a lawsuit that both men's families filed against Motorola in 2006.

The problems triggered City Council hearings, held in summer and fall of 2004. Officials found that cell-phone signals were blocking radio transmissions at 56 locations across the city because the cell signals were also operating on the 800-megahertz frequency.

City officials said that Nextel Communications Inc. was found to be the biggest commercial user of that frequency. Nextel was supposed to change frequencies beginning in 2005 - eliminating many busy signals - but the process has moved slowly.

"It's taking a lot of time. They're tough negotiators," said Frank Punzo, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Property.

But Punzo noted that the city has successfully worked with Nextel to minimize cell-phone interference. "We're lucky if we hear of two dead spots a month, if that many," he said.

Motorola also altered a toggle knob on the portable radios that had caused police and firefighters to end up on the wrong channel when they pressed the emergency button.

But the criticism didn't stop there.

'A higher failure rate'

Philadelphia police officers had nowhere near the amount of training on the new radio system that was needed, causing extra confusion, according to the 2005 audit.

The study, done by then-City Controller Jonathan Saidel, on the heels of the Council hearings, found that police officers only watched a 20-minute video about the new system, compared to the three hours of training recommended by Motorola.

"There was some validity to that," Police Communications Chief Inspector Michael Feeney said recently. "The problem is that it's logistically impossible to train 6,000 people who are never together at one time."

Police brass initially focused on training supervisors, who were supposed to then train their officers. But not all supervisors followed through.

In light of the controller's report, Feeney said, cops were offered individual training on the system.

"Believe me, I'm not trying to say that it was perfect, because it wasn't," he said. "If we had it to do over again, we would have done more training."

The audit also recommended that the city purchase portable repeater systems that could amplify radio signals for stronger reception in buildings and below ground - a critical issue to firefighters or cops who might become trapped or hurt in basements, like the late Capt. John Taylor and Rey Rubio.

Digital repeaters that would be compatible with Motorola's digital radio system were going to be available by 2006, the report said.

"Yet here we are, three years later. We still have problems with reliability, and the city hasn't implemented the recommendations the controller's office made," said Dave Kearney, a firefighter and recording secretary for firefighters' union Local 22.

Councilman Frank Rizzo, who co-sponsored the '04 hearings, said last week that he would "like to do legislation that would require repeaters to be put in all of the new high-rise construction projects in the city to support fire and police communications."

Punzo, though, said the digital repeaters that are on the market won't work on the city's 800- megahertz system.

The controller's report surprisingly found that there was no documentation to suggest that city officials - before shelling out $54 million - had bothered to verify the effectiveness of Motorola's system by visiting other big cities that used it.

When Fire Department officials in Phoenix, Ariz., field-tested Motorola's system for eight weeks in 2004, they found that their old analog system held up better during emergencies.

The Motorola "digital . . . radios had a higher failure rate" and did not meet fire service standards, the Arizona study said.

"Look, we're using a system that is not as reliable as the one we had in place," Kearney said. "Yeah, it has a lot more bells and whistles, but it's only good when it works."

'Sick and tired'

The most troubling incidents with the Motorola system over the past few years have involved the Philadelphia Police Department.

"Every cop in the street has a question in his or her mind about whether the radios will work or not when they really need it to," said the FOP's McGrody.

The two undercover narcotics cops were wounded on Orthodox Street near Josephine in East Frankford on Nov. 13, less than two weeks after Officer Chuck Cassidy was fatally shot interrupting a robbery in West Oak Lane.

"Then those two officers were shot, and we had a female officer who was trying to get out there from North Philadelphia," McGrody said.

"For 10 to 15 minutes, she couldn't broadcast on her radio. She had to use her cell phone twice to call other officers to find out what was going on out there."

At the shooting scene, the veteran Highway Patrol officer had already reached one of the wounded cops and planned to rush him to nearby Frankford Hospital-Torresdale.

"For 30 minutes, during an extremely critical time, he was unable to get through," McGrody said, the frustration growing in his voice.

"At that time, most of us were at Temple University Hospital, where the other officer had been taken. We knew we had another shot cop, but we had no idea where he was because that radio malfunctioned."

When the Daily News told Councilman Rizzo about the incident recently, he fumed.

"If we identify that there are more issues that are developing, we'll do a hearing again and get everybody back in the room," Rizzo said.

Punzo sent Rizzo an explanatory letter that included an analysis of the incident written by Motorola. Both notes said the problems had been caused by human error because nothing was wrong with the radio.

Punzo's note also stated that officers mistakenly change channels on their radios if they think it will enable them to be heard. "This just gets them lost in the system and contributes to their feelings of not being heard."

McGrody got angry when advised of Punzo's note to Rizzo.

"I am sick and tired of this pattern of trying to blame officers for radio malfunctions," McGrody said.

"It's actually insulting to continually blame the problems on firefighters and cops."

Deputy Police Commissioner Jack Gaittens insisted that the system functions well overall.

"People are still dissatisfied," Gaittens said, "but in terms of functionality, the system's OK. It's subject to mechanical breakdown, but we stay on top of Motorola.

"This is public safety, and people's lives depend on it." *
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Old 04-09-2008, 2:02 PM
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Of course, the newscritters would never bother to make much of the fact that Motorola undoubtedly offered a system that would WORK but the city's beancounters said "No, that's too expensive! We'll buy 75 percent of that and no more! So they got a system that doesn't quite cut it because they didn't want to buy the one that WOULD.

You get what you pay for. If you cheap out, expect questionable performance.

I'd hold the beancounters responsible if their cost-cutting caused the system to be inadequate.


Elroy
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Old 04-09-2008, 2:14 PM
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Jonescommon, all I can say is WOW! Talk about incompetence.... This is unbelievable, but one can only wonder exactly how many other systems out there are like this, or even worse, if it can get as bad as this without remedy. Before I reitred from a very inportant east coast fire department, we had problems with the analog system, causing one of the members of my crew to comment "They can talk to a man on the moon, but we cannot talk to the members on the other side of the building". I'll leave it at that.
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Old 04-09-2008, 2:55 PM
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jonescommon has posted this 4 times on this web site now and it is getting a bit much.
Not only that but this news article does not tell the whole story. There is much blame to go around in the philly city council as Elroy has eluded to.
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Old 04-09-2008, 4:45 PM
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The thing is that everyone trusts Motorola but then they have offered a system which is crap up to their standards on other things. what the hell was M thinking
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Old 04-09-2008, 4:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrismoll
The thing is that everyone trusts their elected officials but then they have forced the vendor to implement a system which is crap and not up to their standards on other things. what the hell were they thinking
I fixed your post for you.

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Old 04-09-2008, 8:42 PM
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There's been a lot of talk lately about radio systems failing, and they all seem to be digital systems. I'm a firm believer that digital has no place in the hands of firefighters and police officers. If something goes wrong or the vocoder can't make out the signal because of background noise you're screwed (which never occurs, right? I mean we're firefighters and cops, all we do is sit in a quiet room all day on the 10th story of an office building with perfect radio signal and no noise). Also, these so called "bonks" are a result of inadequate channel allocation, which probably resulted from either Nextel or cost cutting. People don't realize it but Nextel's a big problem. In Massachusetts every time I go by a Nextel tower my mobile shows "out of range" on the Statewide System. It'll be said again and again, but this is NOT Motorola's fault. AZScanner is 100% correct. It's the officials and the beancounters, not the system manufacturer.

Say you went to buy an car (stupid example but it works). The manufacturer tells you that you should get one with 10 airbags for safety purposes so if you're in a wreck, you will be well protected. But you want to save money so you tell the manufacturer to remove all the airbags from the car and take it off the price. The manufacturer says "That's a bad idea." You say "I don't care, I don't have the money to waste on making things perfect. The car will still drive, right? That's all we want it to do."

You leave the dealer with your brand new car and get t-boned by another car making a turn. Because you didn't get any airbags, your head goes flying and hits the B post. Now you're really messed up for the rest of your life because you wanted to save some coin.

Whose fault is that? Good luck suing the car manufacturer for your stupid choice.

The way we did things with the Westchester County Fire/Transit system was exactly the way Motorola said to do things. No towers were removed, no channels removed, no important infrastructure left out. And now what? Motorola says the system was designed for "90% mobile coverage." Meanwhile we get close to if not 100% street level portable coverage and around 90% above ground indoor portable coverage. And public safety has priority over transit, so we never get bonked. By the way, we needed transit on the system to get Federal funding. It wouldn't have been my first choice.

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Do it wrong, it'll haunt you for the rest of your meager existence. Take a look at this link, read the highlighted terms http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache...ient=firefox-a and see why they [officials] keep dumping money into fixing a structurally broken system.
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Old 04-09-2008, 9:06 PM
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Default Don't leave out the vendor

Quote:
Originally Posted by chrismoll
The thing is that everyone trusts Motorola but then they have offered a system which is crap up to their standards on other things. what the hell was M thinking
I gotta tell you, I'm involved with a few issues right now concerning something like this, and in my particular situation, I don't want to get away from Motorola, as much as I want to get away from the radio shop that we are using. I deal with two different Motorola vendors because each basically has their own territory, and one of the shops is on the ball, and the other just don't seem to have a good grasp of even what I consider simple solutions, even conventional.
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Old 04-09-2008, 10:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JESSERABBIT
... a very inportant east coast fire department ...
Huh? Are some more important than others? I retired from one, too. It's very important to me, but I'm sure it's not at all important to you.
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Old 04-10-2008, 4:45 AM
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Correct me if I'm incorrect but I recall that the issues that PA had with their TRS was due to T-1 issues and Verizion was to blame and not Motorola.
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Old 04-10-2008, 4:59 AM
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Angry Hmmmm......

Here in the Shreveport/Bossier City, LA area, we have a different problem. The Shreveport Police, Fire, and other departments, including the Caddo Parish Sheriff's office, "rent" their Motorola radios and "air-time" from the Caddo 911 Communications District. NO one has "priority", which is good. They use 25 frequencies to have enough "space" for all the agencies that want to "rent" from them. However, their DDT's, digital data terminals (computers) leave something to be desired with the Police Dept. Those computers are constantly "locking up" or "logging the unit off". While the Fire Department and the Caddo Sheriff's units seem to be fine. In Bossier City, the Police and Fire use the same Motorola units and trunking system, yet you NEVER hear an officer complain his computer is locked up.

Having a computer, "lock-up" during critical times is NOT an option. Yes, the officer's have "voice" and even handi-talkies, but the Caddo 911 system doesn't seem to have enough "towers" set up so, that the HT coverage is somewhat marginal in signal strength. Durning a foot chase or drug bust, this is CRITICAL.

Now, when this system was being considered, the local Motorola dealer went to Motorola to help HIM make the "bid" on the system. He's been a Motorola dealer for over 50 years and was a major player in the two-way business here. Motorola, gave him a "price" as to what THEY would sell the system to HIM for, for his "bid". Then, Motorola turned right @round and "submarined" the dealer and put in a LOWER bid. I'm guessing it was not the "full system" that the dealer would have provided. Guess who got the "bid"? Yep, good old, "Roto-a-mola". To ADD "insult to injury", the dealer has to provide "customer service" and repair the radios under warantee or what Motorola will pay the dealer. Nice, HUH? No, I'm not the dealer, nor do I work for him. I just know of the situation.

Because, the 911 System wanted to "save a few bucks", officer's lives are in danger. They've already had officers shot, because of this. :-(

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Old 04-10-2008, 9:27 AM
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And Yet Here we have another example of a department wanting all the bells and whistles they can have, did the system (and does elroy have proof that Philly was cheap? on the system?) anyway did the system help the Police officers and firefighters safety as these departments claim? I think not, if a system works flawlessly for 95% of the time well what about the other 5% or the 2 dead spots occuring during an emergency, i shudder to think how the apologists for these new radio systems will spin it, i really think these new systems should be completely tested by the public works people before they are brought live, In Orlando i have heard OFD is simulcasting and that they are already having issues with the system and it hasnt been fully implemented yet! will it take the life of an officer, firefighter or someone else before they realize their mistakes.

There is a Meeting today in Orlando to discuss the system with representatives of the media and 1 of the scanning community, although they have postponed the rollout twice on the system, i am afraid they have already made up their minds, our wonderful government at work.
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Old 04-10-2008, 9:46 AM
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ah, the wonderful motorola oversell again. it's been going on for years. in 1981 or 85, we bought a system that was supposed to work from motorola. wound up having dead spots everywhere. new haven fire got an 800 system years ago, same thing. mtorola and some other companies will promise you the world, come in with a reasonable bid for equipment, etc then when delivered and put into service, the "fun" begins. but for some more money, the problems which shouldn't have been there in the beginning, can be fixed at least for the most part. ever notice that the company just like some cell phone companies, promise, but don't promise coverage. look at your contracts very closely. and digital, well that's just a whole other cluster. if the signal is weak or whatever, all you get is chirps, beeps, or whatever. sorry guys, but if my butt is out there on the line, i want a system thats GOING to work not MAY work. As a former street medic in NY, i can tell you that just about every region requires that rigs have at least 2 forms of communitcation to the hospital (which sometimes wind up backing up comms to base/hq via relay). it's sad to say but this needs to be done in all areas of public safety. and i can honestly say that is not plausible. what are we going to have guys carry 2 radios on their belts. it's not practicle or safe either. wwith all the money that they've made on the backs of public safety personnel nationwide, the big M and others need to develop a system that will really work. enough with all the hits and misses and "maybe someone will hear you" stamford has a systen that has major flaws, bpt is going to a system thats gonna have flaws and waterbury has had flaws for years and thats just here in ct and i know there are more. then there is street level coverage which i don't even want to get started on. all i know is that if i'm after a perp that may have a weapon or i'm in a burning building or in my former case, i'm in a situation where i need pd or fd or i'm trying to reach a hospital for med-con then my radio better damn sure work.

joe
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Old 04-10-2008, 1:25 PM
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Default Nfpa 1221

Up until around 2002 or so, NFPA 1221 stated:

8.3.1.3: A simplex radio channel shall be provided for on-scene tactical communications.

8.3.4.1.26: Trunked radio system talkgroups shall not be used to fulfill the requirement for the provision of a simplex radio channel for on-scene tactical communications.

Somewhere along the line, this requirement was dropped. I saw one proposal in 2005 by Motorola to cut the 'simplex' wording from 8.3.1.3.

Maybe we let radio system vendors tell us what we needed?
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Old 04-10-2008, 3:54 PM
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I see the prolbems happening with starcom21 in il. I seen it with nwcds as well, but they had enough common sense to say were staying on are old system until the prolbems are fixed.

Did anybody wonder about the band properties first before implenting a system and consider the effects it might play in communications. Also, all the addditional towers that are required to fully build these systems out the right way. I seen a fire lt. throw his portable on the grass at a show because he was feed up with tring to rasie his dispatch. Lucky for them at the show they had a command van that reallayed the message for him. What was funny about the whole situation was his fellow firefighter with a different model raise command about three feet away from him. Guess the band system, 800 mhz

Weather Conditions
Clear

Area Locations
Mock Car Fire
Open field with a crowd of 1,000 of people
Surrond by numerous public saftey personel, squads etc
Light industry surronding the field

Tell me whats wrong with this situation !!

When working in public saftey field, I carry both radios vhf and uhf. While its a pain, its a life line when many towns or agencies operate on seperate bands and have no idea what each other are tring to say.

When woring in mall security we had our mobile radios were set for the local pd/fd in scan mode and the other radio was set to are channel. I see and welcome all agencies if having the money to carry mutiple radios in their car at least. It will be a second alternative if the main fails, it leaves options open. Plain and simple phisiolphy
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Old 04-10-2008, 6:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tneville
Up until around 2002 or so, NFPA 1221 stated:

8.3.1.3: A simplex radio channel shall be provided for on-scene tactical communications.

8.3.4.1.26: Trunked radio system talkgroups shall not be used to fulfill the requirement for the provision of a simplex radio channel for on-scene tactical communications.

Somewhere along the line, this requirement was dropped. I saw one proposal in 2005 by Motorola to cut the 'simplex' wording from 8.3.1.3.

Maybe we let radio system vendors tell us what we needed?
Yes, system owners (and in particular governments) became lazy & complacent and allowed vendors to tell them what they needed. They stupidly believed that they receive better advice from them than their own technical staff. I know of many Australian government departments who let their technical people go because they weren't "core business"... so is that the vendors' fault? No! Moto and other vendors only play the game & the rules are still made by government. Kick the senior management & politicians for allowing these things to happen & for buying radio systems under sized for the task & to a budget instead of a specification.

I know of one Australian fire department using trunking at the fireground- I heard them crow about it at an APCO conference. They really had no idea of what they were doing- total incompetence- yet they were teaching others at APCO about how smart they were! Maybe organisations like APCO need to take more of a pro-active educational role and not just let agencies run amok. It only gives "APCO" and trunking in general a bad name when things go wrong.

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Old 04-10-2008, 7:06 PM
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someone brought up the fact that the beancounters were to blame. fact is who cares who is to blame. if you buy a system it damn sure better work before you put lives on the line with it. whether it be a company overselling their product and we all know that happens, or it be some desk jockey trying to save a buck, fact is if it doesn't work, it doesn't work and we don't need someone getting hurt or killed because of that. the radio companies need to stop overselling and if someone tries to cut something out of a system, the radio company needs to make sure the knuckleheads know up front that if they take something out, the system is not going to work and if the radio company doesn't want to wind up holding the bag, they should pull out. i'm not sure about other states but i know CT puts stuff out to bid and there are specs of what the system should have and what it should do. once a company wins the bid, they should be on the hook for making sure the system performs to the specs. that said - case closed. they knew what they were getting into when they bid.
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Old 04-10-2008, 8:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jonescommon
For 15 minutes, another cop racing from North Philadelphia to the shooting scene used her radio to find out what was going on.

Silence.

Finally, she used her cell phone.
It took her 15 minutes to decide to use her cellphone as backup communication while her fellow officer's life hung in the balance?

Must be all that training coming into play. That's the kind of quick-thinking, competent officer I'd want racing to my aid...
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Old 04-10-2008, 9:58 PM
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I would blame the Motorola salesman for pushing the system that he or she knew next to nothing about, the local shop that set it up and does the system repair and then there comes the departments communications training. If something ain't working for you after two or three tries, use something else. There shouldn't be a cop bleeding on the street or a firefighter trapped in a burning building because they can't communicate with their brethren because somethings busted.

This is one of the reasons why fire chiefs are objecting to being force-fed digital radio systems. the sound of an SCBA alarm renders voice communication unusable. Sirens will do it too. It comes down to many problems not being worked out in the beginning and someone shoving the system in your lap and saying goodbye.
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Old 04-10-2008, 10:45 PM
richardc63's Avatar
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joetnymedic
someone brought up the fact that the beancounters were to blame. fact is who cares who is to blame. if you buy a system it damn sure better work before you put lives on the line with it. whether it be a company overselling their product and we all know that happens, or it be some desk jockey trying to save a buck, fact is if it doesn't work, it doesn't work and we don't need someone getting hurt or killed because of that. the radio companies need to stop overselling and if someone tries to cut something out of a system, the radio company needs to make sure the knuckleheads know up front that if they take something out, the system is not going to work and if the radio company doesn't want to wind up holding the bag, they should pull out. i'm not sure about other states but i know CT puts stuff out to bid and there are specs of what the system should have and what it should do. once a company wins the bid, they should be on the hook for making sure the system performs to the specs. that said - case closed. they knew what they were getting into when they bid.
Well I care who is to blame- because from there you can start to work out how to prevent the same mistake being made again.

It is NOT the vendor's fault. When you go & buy a car does the salesman tell you why you shouldn't buy it? Of course they don't. Caveat Emptor- let the buyer beware. And if your management or politicians don't bother to seek out independent professional advice before signing on the dotted line- it is THEIR fault. Too often they put the proverbial wolf in charge of the hen house- well the fault lies with the fools who left the gate open, not the wolf.

So much of the BS I read here about certain vendors, particular Moto, seems to stem from bad decision making within agencies. Short sighted penny pinching with inadequate proper technical oversight is so often the cause of these systems turning out to be duds.

Cheers,


Richard
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