D.C. emergency radio communication system shuts down

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The radio communications system used by the D.C. police and fire departments shut down Monday night, but officials said that public safety was not jeopardized.

No cause could be determined for the sudden halt in radio transmissions, which began about 7:15 p.m. and continued late into the night.

Police and fire department officials said they had patched together backup systems to send messages, and a statement from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's spokeswoman said, "All 911 calls were handled in a timely and professional manner."

"It's just a minor inconvenience," said one police official, who declined to be identified. He said the loss of the radio system made matters "a little more difficult for us," but had not affected police service.

"It takes a minute to adjust to how you have to do things differently," he said.

Another police official said officers were communicating through cellphones, computers and e-mail. "It is [a problem], but it isn't," the official said.

Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the D.C. fire and emergency medical services department, said the agency borrowed radio frequencies from Montgomery and Arlington counties.

Portable and mobile radios were also used, Piringer said. He said firetrucks and fire stations were equipped with computer terminals that could be used to send messages.

"Hopefully, the citizens would not notice any change," he said.

Piringer said he expected that emergency responses would be "quick, efficient and proper," despite the communications glitch.

Officials said that calls were still being taken by 911 operators.


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