From www.capecodfd.com Friday July 2, 2004
A fierce early morning thunder storm is getting the blame for a rather concerning failure of Cape Cod’s 800 mhz trunked public safety communications system today
The timing could not have been worse as the violent storm with numerous lightning strikes to homes and other buildings in the area was at its height. As fire departments began to respond to fires, the ability to dispatch and communicate with apparatus and off duty personnel failed! The backbone of the system, a communications site in Barnstable apparently took a direct hit, causing circuit boards to fry. The system was down for a couple hours and was reported to be about 80% back on at noon.
All of Cape Cod’s Fire Departments, and the majority of its Police Departments use the 800 mhz trunked radio system, which is part of the statewide State Police radio system. Implemented several years ago, the system enhances mobile and portable communications by using a sophisticated repeater system that enables radios to be heard at greater distance than the previously utilized 33 mhz conventional radios. For the most part the trunking system has performed well.
There have however been other episodes and failures of the system since its inception, that have brought police and fire communications to a standstill. These problems were supposedly addressed and appropriate backups and maintenance in place to avoid catastrophic failures. Unfortunately, the ability to avoid a direct lightning strike has not yet been perfected.
In response to the failure of the trunking system, fire departments utilized some of the old 33 mhz mobile and portable radios that are still in some stations and apparatus. Most of the newer apparatus no longer have the low band radios and few vehicles carry low band portables any more.There really isn’t a good backup to 800 mhz system. When the system
failed, apparatus was dispatched by phone and other means. Hardly a reliable or efficient system when departments are being hammered by lightning or other severe weather. Some departments responded to several simultaneous reports of housefires within their own community and mutual aid was not available due to calls of their own. No major fires or serious injuries have been reported at this time.
Compliments go out to all the dispatchers who were working the night shift that handled this challenge professionally and did the best they could to get help where it was needed.
No doubt, police and fire chiefs across the area will be looking into the failure and demanding more improvements in backup systems for our vital communications needs.