News : Radio Failure Exposes Emergency Call Center Violations
Clermont County, OH, USA, June 25, 2015 -- On June 12, the radio system used by law enforcement and fire departments in Clermont County went dead for twenty minutes.
The failure happened when air conditioning units failed at the Clermont County Communication Center, sending temperatures inside the equipment room to 148 degrees. The heat knocked out the system between 4:30 and 4:48 p.m.
The delay seemed like an eternity to Central Joint Fire-EMS District Chief Kevin Riley.
"This is our lifeline. As fire department member, a life squad member or a police officer, this is our lifeline for help. This is how we communicate with the communications center if we need help. During this outage, we could not communicate with the comm center to ask for that help."
Clermont County Communications Coordinator Kathleen Williams said that staff members acted quickly to get the system back online.
"When staff members went to the base of the tower, they discovered that the temperature in the room had climbed to 148 degrees, so obviously the (air conditioning) units had been off for a while. Doors were opened, fans were brought in to bring the temperature down and the system came back online in about 20 minutes." Williams added that the 911 system was not affected at any time by the system failure.
Riley said that he was asked by Clermont County Public Safety Services Director John Kiskaden to provide fans to cool the building in the event of another heat related emergency. When he entered the room where the equipment is stored, Riley said he got an unpleasant surprise.
"It was disheartening. I thought that when we purchased a multi million dollar radio system that it wouldn’t be plugged in with seven Home Depot extension cords. I would have thought that whoever did that installation would have done a job worthy of a public safety radio system," Riley said. "Public safety was in jeopardy during the outage."
Riley asked Fire Inspector Roy Short to inspect the tower shelter building after he witnessed the condition it was in. Short found ten violations, including combustible material and waste being stored near equipment and blocking exits. Short also cited the presence of combustible material in an electric equipment room and multi-plug adapters and extension cords being used.
"Wired and plugged power strips located in the Bauer Tower building must be mounted and not hanging by the cord or dangling from the racks," Short noted.
Williams said that all violations noted by Short have been already been taken care of, including the installation of permanent electrical lines to power the equipment.
Riley vented his frustration with the situation in an e-mail addressed to the Clermont County Commissioners, Kiskaden, Clermont County Administrator Steve Rabolt, the county Fire Chief’s Alliance and the county Police and Fire Association.
"This one cannot, and should not, be blamed on Motorola; this is a complete failure by Clermont County to address the needs of a complete radio system…My first thought was ‘Why did the site monitoring not pick up the temperature rise and notify someone?’ Well it is because we do not have any monitoring of the tower buildings. So as of today, this type of failure can happen again with no notice and crash the system again," Riley wrote in the email
Riley continued, "This lack of due diligence should be criminal on a public safety radio system. During this failure on Friday, if there had been a mayday situation on the fire ground, as assault on a paramedic in the back of an ambulance, or God forbid, a police officer-involved shooting, the potential existed for loss of life…But the most atrocious finding among all the garbage and clutter in this is that the new radio system is being powered by 7 orange extension cords. Now remember that this is the prime site; if it fails, the system dies."
Riley concluded the e-mail by asking his fellow fire chiefs to inspect other communication tower sites in their jurisdictions for fire code violations.
Williams said that the extension cords and clutter were there because of work being done at the communication center.
"We recently completed the installation of a new communications system. It went online fairly recently, so for a short period of time our old system and our new system were operating simultaneously as we were going through the transition. One of the reasons that the building itself was somewhat cluttered and there was some debris there is that we haven’t yet moved out the old equipment out of the base of that tower."
Williams also said that emergency crews were not without communication options during the short period of time the radio system was down.
"They still could communicate in other ways. During this 20-minute period of time, a couple of life squad calls came in and they were dispatched out through a couple of different methods. There was no delay on the couple of calls that came in during this 20 minute period and there was no impact on the 911 system."
Williams added that a permanent fix for the problem is coming soon.
"Temperature monitors were put into the building on June 19 by the state of Ohio which actually manages the system. On this coming Wednesday, the board of county commissioners will be asked to approve a new monitoring system from Motorola that will detect any kind of intrusions, any time the system goes offline or if there any temperature swings."
Williams said that the monitoring system would cost the county $87,280, but it was an expense the county already expected to pay. "We were always going to have a monitoring system in place. It just wasn’t in place yet," Williams said.
She added that she appreciated the professionalism of Riley as the situation unfolded.
"We took the concerns of Chief Riley and joint fire very seriously and worked very quickly to address the concerns that he brought to our attention and we do appreciate his vigilance and we look forward to continue working with him," Williams said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Friday, June 26, 2015