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Detroit's Emergency Dispatch System Fails

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the at-least-it-didn't-happen-somewhere-with-a-lot-of-crime dept.

Crime 191

dstates writes "For most of Friday, police and firefighters in Detroit were forced to operate without their usual dispatch radio when the emergency dispatch system failed. The radio system used for communication between 911 dispatchers and Detroit's police, fire and EMS crews went down around 5:30 a.m. Friday morning, causing a backlog of hundreds of calls and putting public safety at risk. Michigan State Police allowed Detroit's emergency system to use the state's communication towers, but access was restricted to top priority calls out of fear of overloading the State system. More than 60 priority-1 calls and more than 170 non-emergency calls were backed up. With no dispatch to communicate if something went wrong and backup was needed, police were forced to send officers out in pairs for safety concerns on priority-1 calls. Detroit's new police chief, James Craig, says he's 'appalled' that a redundant system did not kick in. The outage occurred only days after Craig took office. The $131 million Motorola system was installed in 2005 amid controversy over its funding. Spokesmen for Motorola said parts of the system were regularly maintained but acknowledged that backup systems had not been tested in the past two years. They said the problem was a hardware glitch in the link between dispatch and the individual radios. As of 9 p.m. Friday, a Motorola spokesman said the system was stable and the company would continue troubleshooting next week."

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well (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203689)

Knowing their police force, the 911 outage might have saved some lives.

Duhhhh.... (3, Funny)

Mr. Dop (708162) | about a year ago | (#44203705)

...its Detroit! Michigan is the only reason why both California and Florida dont fall off into the Ocean. It sucks that much.

Expected (5, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#44203707)

Detroit has had massive funding and infrastructure problems for some time now. It's a dying city with much of the suburbs either abandoned, being reclaimed by nature, and generally being both in appearance and substance as a 3rd world country. It's so bad it has gotten national attention -- an emergency financial planner was sent in to try to right their budget, with limited success.

You can't judge Detroit the same way as you could, say, Chicago. They're no longer really part of the first world. This wouldn't be news if it happened in Afghanistan, for example. It's a sad state of affairs, but this is the inevitable result of a slide into the third world... our bridges and other key infrastructure is also rotting. Detroit is just foreshadowing what will happen to many of our cities over the next 15-20 years as our economy continues to slide into the ocean of wealth inequity.

Re:Expected (5, Informative)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44203865)

The thing is though, all of TFAs indicate that the city had a valid contract with Motorola to maintain the system including routine testing. In spite of that, no testing happened. While your observations may have bearing in general, in this instance it seems like a well known vendor with a (perhaps undeserved in retrospect) good reputation is the source of the problem.

Re:Expected (-1)

MatthiasF (1853064) | about a year ago | (#44203993)

Should also be mentioned that the regular testing of the Detroit system stopped when Motorola began restructuring for the Google purchase.

So, I blame Google.

First Reader, now Detroit's EMS.

Re:Expected (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#44204071)

Well someone is to blame. A contract is a contract, and it's not like Google was suffering financial problems. Indeed, even Motorola, who may have been, would at least keep contracts with ongoing revenue satisfied, even as other stuff fell by the wayside.

Re:Expected (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204123)

different Motorolas -- it split up, the part Google got is the phone making one, but the radios one is Motorola Solutions

Re:Expected (3, Insightful)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about a year ago | (#44204633)

Maybe it should be Motorola, Solutions?
Actually, I'm betting this was a failure at the local level, a couple of techs or more likely a middle manager that spreads their people too thin...

Re:Expected (1)

kilodelta (843627) | about a year ago | (#44204727)

And the other thing to remember - these are more likely APCO P25 standard trunked systems and Motorola sold those to virtually every single municipality out there. Here in our city there's the trunked radio but then there's also a MESH network for law enforcement only.

Re:Expected (2)

instagib (879544) | about a year ago | (#44203883)

Good analysis. The mentioned wealth inequity, the poverty, crime, lack of education, and corruption result in a vicious, almost unbreakable circle. It's like a real life experiment and illustrates why 3rd world countries mainly stay the way they are.

Re:Expected (3, Insightful)

ttucker (2884057) | about a year ago | (#44203989)

Except again, from TFA, the city of Detroit was paying an enormous sum of money to a reputable vendor to maintain the system. How does that coalesce with this third world, wealth inequality theory?

Re:Expected (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204173)

Shhh, it's all about wealth inequity. Everything is. Didn't you get the memo? It turns out that the secret to happiness in life is worrying more about other peoples' bank accounts than you do about your own.

Re:Expected (3, Insightful)

theskipper (461997) | about a year ago | (#44204467)

I think there are subtle differences in interpretation when discussing wealth inequity.

Wealth inequity won't ever go away and in itself isn't bad. If you work harder than your neighbor then your net worth should eventually be greater. That's the American Way (tm).

The problem is when you reach a tipping point where 1% of the population owns 30%+ of the gross net worth of a country. Because of that overwhelming wealth, it results in the owners having a huge amount of influence in the political and legal processes. Meaning they can fund lobbyists to bend lawmaking to their wishes, and they can afford the absolutely best legal representation after breaking laws (i.e. powerful enough to be above the law).

That's seems to be crux of the wealth inequity argument imho. Viewing it as some type of "jealousy" by your viewpoint, and its systemic effect on the other (the OP).

Re:Expected (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204631)

Meh. At least in the US, the poorest among us live better than the kings of only a few centuries ago. As long as that's the case, I don't think we'll see blood in the streets.

Trying to start a class war in America has always been right up there with trying to light your BBQ grill by pissing on it.

Re:Expected (2)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#44204541)

what is this "wealth inequity", what is this "unbreakable circle". there are plenty of minorities who work hard and are able to secure a good living in this country from zero even with very poor english skills and literacy..... but not the ones in Detroit. in Detroit you have a bunch of adult babies who only can whine and suck on the government teat while family structure breaks down and criminals make the place a ghetto. It's long past time to say "oh it's discrimination" or "oh they're a poor persecuted minority", those people need to get off their dead asses and make something of themselves.

Re:Expected (5, Interesting)

mjpollard (473241) | about a year ago | (#44203905)

If you're talking "suburbs" within the Detroit city limits, then yes, I agree with you. (I went by my grandma's old house in northern Detroit a while ago -- the 7 Mile/Gratiot/Hayes area, for the natives among us -- and "reclaimed by nature" doesn't begin to describe it. I nearly wept at the sight as the memories of my brother and I playing in the back yard when we were kids surfaced.) Most in the Metro Detroit area, however, know "suburbs" as the cities and towns outside the city limits, cities such as Grosse Pointe, Royal Oak, Southfield, Dearborn, etc., all of which are alive and thriving.

Re:Expected (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203959)

Yet downtown is mostly empty, except for government offices and a few private businesses. Why ARE cities

such as Grosse Pointe, Royal Oak, Southfield, Dearborn, etc.

alive and thriving ?

Re:Expected (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204057)

You have no clue what you are talking about. It's not New York but it's FAR from empty. I think the word "Detroit" resides in many people's mind as a verbal punching bag. I work as a software developer in downtown Detroit, yeah that's really "3rd world". Or how about the comment of walling it off, great! I'll be out of a job. (stopped reading these garbage comments after that one). Please, if you are just looking for something to bash: look elsewhere. The city has already taken a bashing from corruption and the automotive industry fall out. It doesn't need your worthless comments as well. Thank you, have a nice day.

Re:Expected (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204249)

Or how about the comment of walling it off, great!

(Shrug) It's one of the only two ways to be sure the infestation doesn't escape. The other way is to take off and nuke the site from orbit. You'd probably like that even less.

Re:Expected (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | about a year ago | (#44204407)

I don't know the demographics of those places, but could it be 'white flight'? [wikipedia.org]

Re:Expected (1)

timeOday (582209) | about a year ago | (#44203943)

Detroit is just foreshadowing what will happen to many of our cities over the next 15-20 years as our economy continues to slide into the ocean of wealth inequity.

I think, and hope, that last sentence is an overreach. Just because things are going that way in a given place doesn't mean it will eventually happen everywhere. Maybe the pendulum will swing back the other way, although it is hard to see how this worldwide oversupply of labor might be exhausted. Or at least the slide may run out of steam, finding a new equilibrium that's not ideal, but not utter collapse either. Look at Britain, no longer King of the World, but not a hellhole by any means.

Re:Expected (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about a year ago | (#44203951)

A whole lot of other cities have the same problems, but it doesn't always make the headlines. Most cities are smart enough to have a back-up cell phone policy that is marginally functional (20-30% capacity on a good day). Things get worse when multiple sites are required for coverage due to topography.

Many of these sites are over 50 years old. They might have been upgraded over the years, but there are a lot of parts to be maintained-- generators, batteries, grounding, uplinks, and the radios themselves. Many are in very remote locations as well, often without year-round vehicular access.

I know of one city that had a major outage because the utility breaker tripped, the generator started and ran for two days, and eventually shut down due to fuel exhaustion. Nobody at the NOC knew that the generator was running.

Re:Expected (1)

aztracker1 (702135) | about a year ago | (#44204363)

Most of the current use systems for communications are less than a decade old in most cities.. in the late 90's through mid 00's many cities were sold on the benefits of digital communications systems. The trouble with digital is they aren't really more reliable than cell phones. At worst with analog you can use morse code, which is still enough to communicate.. with digital it's all or nothing.

The biggest crime here is that none of these systems and radios have analog fallback options.

Re:Expected (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203979)

That's what happens when you build a colossal public sector and a wealth transfer system that punishes productivity and rewards doing nothing. Eventually the productive members of the society decide to pack their things and you're only left with the socialist bums complaining how their shitty life is the fault of banks and corporations. Trying to force income equity is a sure way to destroy even a prosperous economy.

Re:Expected (2, Insightful)

Rockoon (1252108) | about a year ago | (#44204059)

While Detroit hasnt had a Republican administration since January 1962, its still hard to conclusively blame the problems on the left.

We'll get a larger sample size soon enough.

Re:Expected (0)

rthille (8526) | about a year ago | (#44204169)

Yeah, those firefighters never do shit. Why do I pay for them in my taxes?
We should have a system more like this: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2011/12/07/9272989-firefighters-let-home-burn-over-75-fee-again?lite [nbcnews.com]

Re:Expected (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204341)

Funny, the police and firefighters seem to work OK here. The problem must be on your end.

Re:Expected (3, Insightful)

DigiShaman (671371) | about a year ago | (#44204021)

Globalism. This is what happens when it's cheaper to move automotive manufacturing overseas only to be compounded further by the unions squeezing out all the profits and stonewalling the change that's necessary to survive. It's one giant death spiral that was enviable. We've had ghost towns in the past, there's no reason to think we wont have them again in the future. Hell, Midland TX (currently a boomtown) might be the next one should all the fracking stop via legislation.

Re:Expected (1)

Phroggy (441) | about a year ago | (#44204133)

OK, but let's say the city said "our city is dying, everything is falling apart, but damnit at least we're gonna have good emergency services!" If that's their priority, and then this happens, it's a pretty big deal.

Re:Expected (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204229)

Maybe deer chewed through the cables or something.

Re:Expected (1)

aztracker1 (702135) | about a year ago | (#44204319)

I, personally think that a big part of the problem is all the metro emergency responder systems being sold in "digital" systems.. yes, when they work, they do sound and function better than analog... unfortunately they can't be expected to be much more reliable than cell phones in the real world. All of these systems and radios should have analog fallback channels.

No testing, the result is production (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203727)

This is why you test your backups. Because if you don't, PEOPLE DIE.

Re:No testing, the result is production (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#44204079)

And now, the punchline: "In other words, Detroit's emergency response time increased by about 1.5%.

When seconds count, help is minutes away (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203735)

Or in this case, hours.

I'm sure if everyone living in Detroit "paid their fair share" of taxes, that extra money would have helped, too.

Yay, government. It's SOOO wonderful, we really have to give it more tax money.

So they can use it on reading all your emails, then hunting down Snowden et al

Re:When seconds count, help is minutes away (4, Informative)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | about a year ago | (#44203937)

Except the fault was Motorola's. But don't let facts get in your way.

Re:When seconds count, help is minutes away (2)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#44203969)

Responsibility, it always slides down hill.

Re:When seconds count, help is minutes away (1)

OhPlz (168413) | about a year ago | (#44204181)

The city's emergency management office isn't responsible for the backup system? The city is obligated to test these things to make sure they work. Vendors don't police themselves.

Whatever happened to accountability? We're living in the age of "pass the buck".

And... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203741)

Not a single fuck was given...

Just wall off detroit and start emptying the prisons into it.

We spend way too much on prisons... And detroit is a lost cause.
It will take BILLIONS to turn it into anything but a shithole.
So why not just let it be a shithole... The best shithole on the planet!

Re:And... (4, Funny)

djdanlib (732853) | about a year ago | (#44203807)

Last time we tried that, we got Australia.

Re:And... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203925)

That turned out pretty well... It only took a few hundred years.

We should try it again. And put it on tv too.

and need to build walled off rail and highway link (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#44203849)

and need to build walled off rail and highway link to Canada there as well.

Re:And... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203897)

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell are still around making movies. Dare I suggest Escape from Detroit? I dare, I dare!

Motorola fails (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203773)

Philadelphia has a Motorola system and this happened regularly. Turns out the main system and all backups were wired through the same relay so they all went down at once.

Don't you mean Linux fails? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203957)

MOTOMESH is based on/around/upon Linux. So much for the years of "Linux is invulnerable to exploits" b.s. spread around here (1 look at ANDROID, where Linux actually gets used shows anyone otherwise), and for its "superior uptime" which the London Stock Exchange found out about not once, but twice in a row right at the start of using Linux, and you have this example now. Oh, don't worry: The little worm nerd weasels around here will just do their usual "NSA 'damage control'" (because they're little weasels and act more like women than women do) and downmod this from view (others see it anyhow so I let them have their puny illusions on that account) to attempt to hide truth as usual! Just to further their FAILED AGENDA of "the year of Linux on the desktop", which is a fail, because this article shows you how it works on servers (as well as it did for the LSE) where they are most used and most stable. Too bad they're showing they're not stable.

Re:Don't you mean Linux fails? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204255)

Sober up, then post

Take your own advice troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204277)

MOTOMESH is Linux based. He's correct. It did fail. The article evidences it. Yes, you are a troll, since the best you have is your off topic bullshit in response to facts. Do you work for the NSA by any chance? I ask, since you "fit the profile" so well!

Re:Take your own advice troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204355)

Time to put Mr. Sock back in his comfy drawer and go beddy-bye.

Pot calling a kettle black ac troll? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204741)

Motomesh isn't on Windows. It's on Linux. It failed. You fail too. Fact. "Hey Waiter: Could I have a side order of bullshit with the spin the ad hominem attack using troll that I just replied to is slinging, please?" (lmao).

Re:Don't you mean Linux fails? (1)

LandGator (625199) | about a year ago | (#44204273)

MOTOMESH is its own code and is NOT Open Source, so why are you blaming Open Source when there's a proprietary component?

Your "spin" fails vs. truth (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204493)

MOTOMESH failed. It is Linux based. Facts are facts. Truth is truth. End of story.

Cops say one thing, Motorola says another (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203777)

The cops say the system wasn't tested for over two years.

Motorola says the system is fully tested annually, and has follow-up checks done every month.

Huh? And what is the designed redundancy, if any?

Re:Cops say one thing, Motorola says another (1)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#44204011)

The backup system is what wasn't being tested, apparently, which makes sense seeing as that wasn't working when they needed to switch to it. And there seems to be little doubt about that as Motorola's spokesperson acknowledged it.

Re:Cops say one thing, Motorola says another (1)

Kilo Kilo (2837521) | about a year ago | (#44204029)

Video from TFA said that the back up system was never tested. So, who's right?

Logical backup (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203787)

Seems like the natural backup would be personal cell phones.
That worked in the later years for the X-files.

Re:Logical backup (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203917)

But their cell phones all have chips made by Motorola in them!

My question (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203793)

How does it "put public safety at risk" ?

I feel safe with or without 9-1-1.

Re: My question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203991)

Ambulances, firetrucks, police for violent crimes, etc.

Re:My question (1)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#44204033)

I'm assuming that you're either trolling or live in the middle of nowhere.

Because this is a very serious thing indeed. Somebody breaking into your house? 911 is what you would call to get a police officer on the scene. Neighbor having a stroke? Call 911 and they should get medics on the scene ASAP.

People who feel safe in the absence of a 911 system are usually delusional, as those things, or analogous things, can happen to anybody at any age.

Re:My question (4, Funny)

Rockoon (1252108) | about a year ago | (#44204165)

Because this is a very serious thing indeed. Somebody breaking into your house? 911

The 1911 isnt a very good home defense weapon. Shotguns are much better. The 1911 is for when you are out and about.

Re:My question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204385)

The 1911 isnt a very good home defense weapon. Shotguns are much better. The 1911 is for when you are out and about.

I'd suggest an SBR (10-14" barrel) AR with an EOTech sight, and loaded with a good brand of 75gr defense rounds over the shotgun.

Re:My question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204621)

I assume, you're joking because weapons at home kill far more people on a yearly basis than intruders do.

Seriously, calling the police is a fucking obvious thing to do. Unless, of course, you want to be like that dumbass Pistorius that shot a loved one that he thought was an intruder.

Re:My question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204651)

I assume, you're joking because weapons at home kill far more people on a yearly basis than intruders do.

And the one study that "proved" this was complete junk science. It relied on treating in-home assaults by rival drug dealers as "homicides by family members."

Re:My question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204199)

Someone breaking in... call the police.
House on fire... call the fire department.
Neighbor having a stroke... call an ambulance.

Seriously, this isn't that difficult.

Re:My question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204635)

That's what 911 is for. You call the number and they send out the correct combination of the above. You frequently need services from more than just one of those departments. The Fire Department is usually the first on the scene to medical emergencies, because of where they're located, but it doesn't mean that you wouldn't also want to have the ambulance and medics on the way at the same time.

Honestly, it's not that fucking hard. Dispatchers exist for a reason.

Re:My question (1)

LandGator (625199) | about a year ago | (#44204639)

What is -your- police dispatch backup number?
What is -your- fire dispatch backup number?
Do they go to your primary PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point), the same place your 911 calls go to?
Knowing both the Primary and Secondary PSAP ten digit inbound numbers may have been needed here.
Keeping them written down in your wallet is an exceptionally good idea.

Should have turned to the HAMs! (5, Interesting)

blocsync (320897) | about a year ago | (#44203815)

I live in Florida, and when weather gets bad it can destroy critical communications equipment (including redundant systems). One thing I've seen done in the past is pushing communications through Amateur radio operators. Who (unlike the name would have you believe) are EXTREMELY professional and they tend to be able to very rapidly deploy communications equipment from the inner cities all the way out to the rural areas. Some of their equipment is capable of city and state coverage, but some of them can also establish international communication on a moments notice. This would have been a good fail-over for the lower priority calls. Just my 2 cents... http://www.arrl.org/ares has some info on the group I'm referencing.

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (1)

Sneftel (15416) | about a year ago | (#44203965)

I've heard about ham radio being used for emergency communications, but would it really have been helpful here? Do police officers' radios work on ham radio frequencies, or could thousands of ham radios actually be distributed to them in short order?

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204035)

I've heard about ham radio being used for emergency communications, but would it really have been helpful here? Do police officers' radios work on ham radio frequencies, or could thousands of ham radios actually be distributed to them in short order?

No. All the bigger cities have upgraded to a digital trunking system. That upgrade is mentioned in the article. If the system is out, there's no easy alternative. It's more like a cell phone network than a traditional radio system. They are sometimes encrypted as well. HAMs could broadcast on the VHF state radio frequencies, but those are very limited and the state towers worked just fine. I don't know about this state, but mine only has three commonly used state wide frequencies. That's not much for a big city, but it helped them get through.

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (1)

LandGator (625199) | about a year ago | (#44204685)

Yes. In an emergency where there's a functioning ARES/RACES system, hams are assigned to fire stations, dispatch centers and police precincts. Rarely do hams ride along because there just aren't enough hams, but they can pass messages to the dispatchers who use the fallback VHF analog radio system used for interoperability.

Mass media would publicize an alternate phone number for folks to call and hams would forward messages to the appropriate resource. It's well documented by FEMA (Craig Fuagte is a kick-ass FEMA boss, BTW) how to make this work.

911 centers fail more often than you will think (mostly due to 'backhoe fade' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backhoe#Backhoe_fade [wikipedia.org] ). Been there, done that, handled the traffic.

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (2)

civiltongue (830912) | about a year ago | (#44204091)

Do police officers' radios work on ham radio frequencies, or could thousands of ham radios actually be distributed to them in short order?

No to both. They'd both be illegal. What happens is that some ham operators work at the dispatch center, while others ride in patrol cars. It worked this way very effectively when L.A.'s Valley area transmitters all went down a few decades ago. A similar arrangement occurs when a major hospital's internal telephone system crashes, which happens every so often. Ham radio support groups are equipped and drilled for these and other comm emergencies.

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (5, Interesting)

Technician (215283) | about a year ago | (#44204013)

A Motorolla trunked radio system consists of a pool of repeaters. A single repeater is placed into the control for the repeater site. On failure of the computer, all the repeaters switch over to a failover mode and become simple repeaters. All talkgroups vanish and all communications are shared by the repeater the radios have been assigned to. If properly assigned the dispatch and patrol should be all on one repeater. A second radio in the dispatch should be on another repeater along with top level "staff" communications.

Upon failure of an entire radio site due to power failure, antenna catastrophic failure, etc, then the backup site should kick in.

A poorly managed radio system will have radios assigned to repeaters at random. I have seen this, so when failover happens, teams can't talk to each other as they are not on the same repeater and other services are blended in so some patrols and some fire may be on the same repeater and some may be on another with no communication between repeaters.

This poor management happens when the person laying out the system is suddenly downsized and someone without knowledge of the plan has to add or replace radios and have no idea want the default radio assignments should be so they are assigned at random.

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (3, Interesting)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | about a year ago | (#44204163)

Nonsense. HAM radio operators are less relevant today than they have ever been. HAMs provided useful emergency communications two decades ago, but no longer. Nowadays, cellular providers truck out COWs (Cellular On Wheels. i.e. mobile cell sites) within hours of a disaster, or even preemptively if a disaster is expected. After a disaster, you'll see people talking on Nextels, not relaying messages through HAM operators. Sure, the red cross will accept volunteer radio operators, but only because policy dictates that they do so. They'll be told to set up useless radio stations and relay worthless information until they get bored and leave, or they're told that they're no longer needed.

If you want the truth about HAM radio involvement in emergency communications then you need to talk to HAMs that have actually attempted to participate in such activities within the last decade. Organizations like ARRL are going to talk up how important HAM radio is because that's the point of the organization. They'll tell you that some number of HAM radio operators participated during some disaster, but they won't tell you that the only traffic sent over those nets consisted of nothing more than periodic radio checks. They won't tell you that all HAM radio stations were set up in tactically unimportant locations. Half the time they're in areas which don't need a radio operator and the other half of the time they're set up next to a fully-functional radio truck which doesn't need any kind of HAM support.

In the situation submitted by the OP, HAM radio wouldn't have helped anyway. HAMs can only practically set up fixed locations, which are already served by landlines or personal cell service. A mobile solution would involve putting a HAM radio operator into every single squad car, which would be impractical for obvious reasons.

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204239)

A mobile solution would involve putting a HAM radio operator into every single squad car, which would be impractical for obvious reasons

Those fat hams wouldn't fit?

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204247)

After a disaster, you'll see people talking on Nextels, not relaying messages through HAM operators.

Might want to check on that, there are no more "Nextels", as the iDEN network was shut down on June 30th (though there is a regional provider in the southeast (SouthernLinc) that still supports the iDEN technology). Amateur radio does not rely on the cellular/landline/satellite communications infrastructure, and in a real disaster would be available instantly to assist with emergency communication needs.

HAMs can only practically set up fixed locations, which are already served by landlines or personal cell service.

Not sure where you are getting this, however Amateur radio operators are able to operate mobile as well as fixed locations. And during a disaster, there is a real possibility that landlines and personal cell services could be disrupted. There are a number of HAM organizations that operate repeaters throughout the country that provide mobile HAMs extended communications areas. Perhaps a HAM in every squad might not be practical, however claiming that Amateur radio for emergency communications isn't relevant simply isn't true.

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204343)

I think that it's important to consider the scale and type of disaster. If there is something like what is going on in Egypt or Syria, Verizon isn't going to start rolling out mobile cell towers amid burst of gunfire and bombings. In a more "doomsday" type event, you're not going to have the support of these commercial entities, and you might not have the military on your side. Then, HAM doesn't seem quite so useless, does it?

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (4, Informative)

blocsync (320897) | about a year ago | (#44204547)

Actually, I don't need to speak to "HAMs that have actually attempted to participate in such activities within the last decade." As I am one. I'm not sure what bad experience you've seen with what sounds to have been a poorly organized net. However, it does not describe the entire community and it definitely doesn't apply to all situations. I don't think I've ever heard an actual "radio check" on a live emergency net either. Net Control tends to get very annoyed about low priority traffic like that.

Perhaps you're speaking only of a specific area or a specific group of HAMs, but I don't believe your comments apply everywhere.

Clearly in this situation, All Police/Fire/EMS/Dispatch personnel could have used Cell Phones to fill the void, but they didn't. There's a string of failures here, not just one system failing. My suggestion wasn't to replace their coms completely with HAMs, rather to use them in an organized NET to handle the lower priority calls, due to the concern over high volume on the state radio system.

I think people underestimate the degree to which people will volunteer and assist public services when called upon. You can criticize HAMs/Red Cross/etc... all you want for their failures, I'll judge them on their successes when few others are stepping up at all.

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204705)

> Nonsense. HAM radio operators are less relevant today than they have ever been.

Never heard of a HAM radio. What is that? Does it stand for something since you capitalized all of the letters? I have my general license and several ham radios so I thought I was fairly knowledgeable about such things.

Re:Should have turned to the HAMs! (1)

LandGator (625199) | about a year ago | (#44204761)

> After a disaster, you'll see people talking on Nextels
Not any more. NEXTEL is off the air, for good.

> Nowadays, cellular providers truck out COWs (Cellular On Wheels. i.e. mobile cell sites) within hours of a disaster,
Would not have done a thing for this problem, as the dispatch center could not be counted on to have the cellphone numbers of every cop working for MCP, err, the city of Detroit. And, as to the 'rapid response' of the teams rolling out the COWs, well, often not so rapid.

> They'll tell you that some number of HAM radio operators participated during some disaster, but they won't tell you that the only traffic sent over those nets consisted of nothing more than periodic radio checks.
Mulefeathers! A lot of emergency and urgent traffic has been handled in multiple disasters in the Pacific NW alone in which I worked.

> They won't tell you that all HAM radio stations were set up in tactically unimportant locations.
Again, wrong, wrong, wrong. Unless the PSAPs, fire stations, police precincts and Red Cross are 'tactically unimportant'.

And, OBTW, SANS is on record strongly suggesting that telecom/network admins will need ham radios to reestablish communications in the event of major disaster (solar flare, Tungiska-sized-meteorite strike in metro area, short Eastasian dictator sets off an EMP bomp over Seattle). SANS ain't the ARRL, and is very well respected.

Linux blows it again! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203835)

So much for the stability and uptime of Linux eh?

Scumbaggery is everywhere! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203877)

Oh yes that's it: "NSA style 'damage control'" - Downmod truth so no one can see it, right? You pricks around here are totally fucking pitiful, and you know it.

Hey Detroit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203863)

Get up, get, get, get down, 911 is a joke in yo town!

I hate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203911)

When people talk trash about Detroit and don't live there. It's getting better and every where has their bad areas.

Re:I hate (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203931)

Yeah, but the bad area for everywhere else is Detroit.

Re:I hate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204295)

Agreed. People seem to think that the only solution for Detroit is to nuke it from orbit, but in reality it would probably be OK to build retaining walls and expand Lake Erie by flooding the streets. And cheaper than nukes, to boot.

Welcome to Democrats Utopia! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44203939)

...

Re:Welcome to Democrats Utopia! (0)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#44204099)

Well, in honesty, it is a good demonstration of "will of the people" run amok, driving the productive away, as taxes increase, leading to problems, and the solution is, of course, even more government.

We've seen this throughout human history in cases of dictatorship and kleptocracies. Humanity is now learning that democracy can bring on sufficient burden that the difference is little different. Nobody can make a move without kowtowing to the government for permission to do things, and when they manage, against all odds, to be successful, they are expected to heave ever-increasing percents of the success back to the government.

Economics doesn't care if it's because the government is a kleptocracy or the government is filled with well-meaning rules and regulations and temerous claims that everyone should "pay their fair share", which, curiously, is always, always increasing.

Re:Welcome to Democrats Utopia! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204189)

Dat racis

Phones? (1)

jamesl (106902) | about a year ago | (#44203947)

How many cops carry personal cell phones on the job? Seems like giving dispatch a list of their numbers would keep things moving in such an emergency.

Re:Phones? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204395)

How many cops carry personal cell phones on the job?

Most. Their radio conversations are recorded and subpoenable ... their personal cell phones are not recorded and thus not available to be played in court.

Before the conversion from analog radio to encrypted digital radio they usually claimed that use of personal (or department issued) cell phones was needed to protect their safety from eavesdroppers.

So 230 calls ... (2)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#44203963)

That is a lot of communications.
I understand the need to worry about overloading state infrastructure with that many calls, and why just picking up a 50 cell phone could not have fixed this problem.

Re:So 230 calls ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204289)

How well would that work, though? I won't pretend to know anything about communications systems, but using cell phones seems to lose the advantage(s) of broadcasting (i.e. - "whoever is closer this spot, take this call"). Or maybe you could broadcast text messages?

Re:So 230 calls ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204725)

As someone who has been in similar private sector situations, you got it exactly right. When the radio network is even marginally maligned, everyone takes out their cellphones, personal or not, and uses those instead. I'd wager that those communications were for broadcast only, and that is likely only because they did not have a software suite that can multicast texts- another popular option.

Detroit and Fails in a headline is not news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204111)

Let us know when you can put Detroit and "success" in the headline. That's news.

Re:Detroit and Fails in a headline is not news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204209)

You'll have to wait for OCP to finish construction of New Detroit.

dafuq? (1)

MyHair (589485) | about a year ago | (#44204147)

I'm sure dispatch systems are a different animal entirely, but long ago I worked at a place with a centralized walkie-talkie repeater; it had two units and rotated which was master every 12-24 hours so the backup was always tested. It was a Motorola system.

Re:dafuq? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#44204231)

I'm sure dispatch systems are a different animal entirely, but long ago I worked at a place with a centralized walkie-talkie repeater; it had two units and rotated which was master every 12-24 hours so the backup was always tested. It was a Motorola system.

obviously they don't believe in dualing their systems.

you might have noticed that they have a standard policy of sending people out on their own. da fuq is that? too expensive to send in pairs or is that detrimental for collecting fees from street vendors?

Re:dafuq? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204283)

you might have noticed that they have a standard policy of sending people out on their own. da fuq is that? too expensive to send in pairs or is that detrimental for collecting fees from street vendors?

It's Detroit we're talking about here. They're running low on redshirts.

Backup untested? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44204333)

Did they check to see if it was stolen?

Why didn't the morons turn to the Hams? (1)

Cito (1725214) | about a year ago | (#44204793)

This is a large reason why Amateur radio operators exist, they could have simply contacted the ARRL and several of the local clubs would have activated to provide emergency radio communication.

I know our town has had several training drills with us local hams, with the 911 system, We have setup a backup amateur radio station at the 911 office in case of major problems the hams show up and control the station from the 911 center acting as the nerve center. Then other hams in the club get stationed around at locations needed/required by local agencies and provide communication until problems are resolved.

This wouldn't have been a problem at all if they would have used the system that has been in place for decades the Amateur radio community, who are mandated to provide emergency radio communication.

the idiots didn't even try... or they wouldn't have had a problem this large. Their system would have went down, but the Hams repeaters, aprs, and others work just fine and even better anyhow.

Planned $1.8 million budget cut .. (1)

dgharmon (2564621) | about a year ago | (#44204813)

"Emergency workers told Local 4 that they're already understaffed, but come July 1, 33 more EMS positions will be eliminated. The cause of the layoffs comes from a planned $1.8 million cut to the city budget."

"Detroit's budget battle is forcing dozens of EMS workers out of a job and putting public safety at risk" June 2010 [jems.com]
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