Recovery

Broward Not Doing Enough to Fix Police Radios if Another Mass Shooting Occurs

'It is unacceptable Motorola, that in a mass casualty incident, the damn thing doesn’t work.'

by Larry Barszewski, Sun Sentinel / May 8, 2018

(TNS) - Not enough has been done to make sure Broward County’s public safety radio system won’t run into problems if another mass casualty incident occurs, county commissioners were told Tuesday.

Heavy usage led to radio problems during the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting in January 2017 and again as units responded to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in February.

Max Schachter, father of student Alex Schachter, one of 17 killed at Stoneman Douglas, said the county knew back in 2016 that the system needed to be upgraded but didn’t put in place temporary fixes to improve operations — and still didn’t after the massacres at the airport and the high school.

“If there’s another emergency tomorrow, I don’t want to hear, ‘We bought a new system. It’s coming in 2019 or 2020,’ ” Schachter said.

“It is unacceptable Motorola, that in a mass casualty incident, the damn thing doesn’t work. You cannot resort to hand signals to save people’s lives. You cannot have a situation where SWAT cannot communicate. We need to fix this, thank you very much, and I hope we can get this done as soon as possible,” Schachter said.

A Motorola representative said the county’s public radio system did not fail.

“On Feb. 14 the system did not crash. It worked as designed,” said Motorola’s Danny Sanchez. The system went into “throttling,” a safety mode that prevented the system from crashing.

But Commissioner Michael Udine said the problems caused by the throttling in disrupting communications were not acceptable, either.

"Throttling is the equivalent of radio failure" because it doesn’t allow police officers to communicate as they need to, Udine said.

County officials said there is no additional fix that can be given to the current system to increase its capacity. Sanchez told commissioners the county’s new system would have more capacity, but it would still use throttling if it became over capacity.

Commissioners asked County Administrator Bertha Henry to find out three things:

-- Is there any way to put the new system in place sooner than scheduled?

-- Is the new system the best available, or should the county be looking at something different that can better handle large-scale incidents?

-- When will the county initiate better training of officers and deputies using the public safety radio system?

Officials said many officers don’t understand that simply turning on their radio or switching channels affects the operation of the entire network. So even officers not involved but trying to find out what was happening in an incident were taxing the capabilities of the system.

And it’s not only public safety officers that are on the current system. County government operations and the Broward school district use it too.

One official said the time of the day of the Parkland shootings, near when school was let out, could have impacted the system from school bus radios being activated as school buses were turned on.

lbarszewski@SunSentinel.com, 954-356-4556 or Twitter @lbarszewski

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