Emergency Radios in N.C. Malfunctioned 3 Times


Channel 9 has uncovered serious breakdowns in the radio communication system that police, firefighters and other emergency crews use in Charlotte.

Channel 9 reporter Jim Bradley found out that the malfunctions have happened three times in last three weeks and what emergency responders are doing to prevent more incidents.

“This is a top priority for us to work on and we won’t stop until we’ve resolved it,” said Maj. Eddie Levins with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department.

Levins said the breakdowns have left some police officers on the street unable to talk to each other or with dispatchers at the Law Enforcement Center on multiple occasions over the last three weeks.

“What's worrisome is if you're in the middle of a fight or some type of situation that you can't do anything with, it's scary that you can get your help to you,” said Levins.

The city of Charlotte confirms the three incidents happened, all of which lasting between 35 and 75 minutes, on Aug. 25, the first day of school, and on Aug. 26 and Aug. 31.

In each case, the breakdown happened in the afternoon as hundreds of school bus drivers were turning on their radios.

As they did, the communications channel that logs all radios onto the city system became clogged. This meant trouble for hundreds of users who turned their radios on, including police, sheriff's deputies, school police officers and firefighters.

“All of the sudden we were getting a lot of those quick busy signals. Yes,” said Chief Jon Hannan from the Charlotte Fire Department.

Bradley asked, “Is that a concern for you?”

“Absolutely, it's how we communicate on emergency scenes,” said Hannan.

Hannan is still waiting for answers from Motorola, the company that supplies the city’s 13,000 radios.

And so is Chuck Robinson, who heads the city department that oversees radio issues. Bradley asked him, “Is that a potential safety problem for these people?

“It can be, … without a doubt. And I don’t want to minimize that in the least. And so, as I told you, we're trying to get to the bottom of why and make sure it doesn't happen again,” Robinson said.

Robinson isn’t sure whether school bus radios were the specific cause of the system overload, but as they're investigated the city is also changing the way other departments use radios in order to cut down on peak demand.

Levins is eager for talks between the city and Motorola to produce a solution before it's too late.

“We need to get on the radio when we need to get on the radio, and it needs to work when we push the button,” Levins said.

The city said the radio system still worked for emergency crews whose radios were already turned on when the breakdown happened.

But there remains disagreement from the school system about whether its radios were the cause of the problems.

Channel 9 contacted Motorola. It insists its systems are working fine but admits it's still working with the city to figure out a way to keep the breakdowns from happening again.

Those radio breakdowns did not involve the city's 911 system, so those emergency calls were not affected.

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