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‘Throttling’ Caused Broward Radio Failures During Parkland Shooting

Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son was killed at Stoneman Douglas, told Broward commissioners Tuesday that the county is not doing enough to improve its radio system.

‘Throttling’ Caused Broward Radio Failures During Parkland Shooting

A Motorola representative says throttling prevents radio systems from crashing altogether during increased activity.

The father of a student shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School says Broward County is not doing enough to improve its public safety radio system that failed during the mass shooting.

Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was one of 17 killed on February 14, spoke to county commissioners Tuesday, saying the county knew in 2016 that its Motorola-operated system needed to be upgraded but did not implement temporary improvements, reports The Sun-Sentinel.

When deputies and officers from the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Coral Springs Police Department arrived at Stoneman Douglas, they were unable to communicate with each other due to failed attempts to merge radio traffic, barring them from exchanging descriptions of the shooter and his location.

“White male with ROTC uniform burgundy shirt,” a Coral Springs police officer said over the radio. “Last seen in the three-story building, north parking lot,” the officer continued, referring to building 12.

Seconds later, a Broward County sheriff’s deputy responds to an inquiry regarding the shooter’s location.

“We don’t know, but we’re heading in the building, in front of the 13 building, building 13,” he said.

At some points, officers were unable to transmit or receive radio messages completely. Some officers were forced to use hand signals to communicate with each. In other instances, it took four of five attempts for a responding officer to transmit a single piece of information over the radio.

A report from the sheriff’s office said the radio system is more than 25 years old and is “nearing its end of life.”

“This impairment, otherwise known as ‘throttling,’ occurred at some point during the incident and hindered radio communications,” the report continued. “This issue is being further analyzed.”

‘Throttling’ Was Cause of Delays, Says Motorola

Danny Sanchez, a Motorola representative, says the system did not fail. The system went into “throttling” mode, which he describes as a safety mode that prevents the system from crashing altogether from increased radio activity. Throttling gives users a busy signal or error message when someone attempts to use the radio system.

Sanchez says there is no way to increase the current system’s capacity or bandwidth. However, the new system will have more capacity, increasing from 28 to 39 channels, but will still rely on throttling if it goes over capacity. The new system has been designed based on the county’s specifications, adds Sanchez.

Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine calls the delays unacceptable.

“To the average Joe on the street, throttling is the equivalent of radio failure because it doesn’t let [police] do what they’re supposed to do,” Udine said.

Schachter echoed Udine’s statement during Tuesday’s discussion.

“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.

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Administrator Bertha Henry says The Police Foundation, which was hired to consult with the county, will review the response to the shooting and will look into the county’s radio system to make recommendations.

Commissioners are also emphasizing the importance of training police and other radio users on how to avoid overloading the system, according to GovTech. Many officers are unaware that turning on their radio or switching channels affects the entire network, officials say, so officers not even responding to an incident but wanting to know what is happening can weaken the system’s capabilities.

“Until last week, I didn’t know they didn’t want guys changing channels,” Broward Undersheriff Steve Kinsey said.

Stoneman Douglas is not the only incident where the county’s radio system had failures. In January 2017, five people were shot and killed at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after a gunman opened fire in a busy baggage claim area. A rush of radio traffic from responding officers led to communication problems.

Prior to the airport shooting, in 2015, a consultant reviewed the county’s radio system and said that it needed to be replaced and that much of the equipment was “past the end of typical replacement periods.”

Last year, commissioners approved spending $59.5 million on a new system but it is not expected to be implemented until the end of 2019.

About the Author

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Amy Rock is the Campus Safety Web Editor. She graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in Education.

She has worked in the publishing industry since 2011, in both events and digital marketing.

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8 responses to “‘Throttling’ Caused Broward Radio Failures During Parkland Shooting”

  1. Jack Clark says:

    I work in the 2 way radio industry. If the public knew how many Public Safety radio systems are well over 20 years old and no longer supported by the manufacturers, there would be an uprising. Counties and cities in my are spending millions on things like updating buildings and parks and things that look pretty on the outside. Buying the latest, coolest vehicles. New office furniture. Giving themselves raises. Meanwhile we are buying used parts off the internet to keep 911 up and running. Makes you realize where there priorities really are.

  2. Tom Tisdale says:

    OH SO TRUE JACK! IF THE DEPARTMENTS AND POLITICIANS DON’T START PAYING ATTENTION TO THIS UNSEEN PROBLEM IN THEIR DEPARTMENTS AND JURISDICTIONS IT WILL CONTINUE TO GET WORSE UNTIL COMPLETE OVERLOAD FAILURE OCCURS EVERYWHERE! UNFORTUNATELY IT IS ALREADY HAPPENING ALL OVER BUT HIDDEN FROM THE PUBLIC’S VIEW BY THE DEPARTMENTS AND POLITICIANS!

  3. Fred says:

    I’m sure the radio system probably does need to be upgraded. But tto put the blame on that; instead of the officers that were waiting outside while a crazed person was inside shooting is where the blame lies!

  4. Mike Sellers says:

    In addition to communications infrastructure updates, everyone at the top needs to understand how the system works and what they can do to increase the efficiency of what they have. Too many people want to blame the equipment, but as that one Undersheriff said, he didn’t know that changing channels was an issue. It’s probably listed in the documentation somewhere.

    Knowing the deficiencies in their system should have led to a protocol for high-traffic events to minimize the disruptions. Hopefully they have already started that process.

  5. Larry says:

    I am not surprised Jack. I also work in the school communications field for a manufacturer of paging/intercom systems. It is not unusual to field calls for systems that are 25+ years old. The communications infrastructure in many schools across the country is seriously outdated. Our inventory of new and refurbished components for those older systems is getting quite small. We cannot make some items due to the inability to source raw components which were last made decades ago. Pretty sad that communities choose to fund the latest police cars and park equipment yet let their critical communication systems in school deteriorate into failure.

  6. Steve says:

    Having a reliable radio communication system is very important. Having radio users understand how to use the system is just as important, especially when the radio system becomes heavily loaded. Having two or more users talking on the same radio channel at the same time prevents the radio system from working. Sure, you can add more channels, but users are only listening to one channel at a time. Know what channel to be on and knowing went to talk and when to listen is very important. Training the user on how to use the radio is critical.

  7. Bigfoot says:

    BCSO system was in a decrepit condition when I left in 2002. Motorola never offered to enhance the legacy network, they wanted the county to pay for a complete overhaul. This is how Motorola operates. Buy a Harris or Kenwood system, don’t risk more lives with Chinese made junk from Chicago.

  8. Steve says:

    I have been in the Telecommunications industry for 40 years, installing radio systems around the world, we all know that there are a number of different technologies of choice available, however I think someone ought to look to see what many other countries are using and have been using successfully for quite sometime now. I would suggest looking at TETRA a widely used technology adopted by many Public safety users around the world.

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