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Another "communications Failure"?

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  • Another "communications Failure"?

    The Capital Regional District (Victoria area) recently changed their emergency communications to an encoded digital system as of 1 June this year. Seems that maybe it wasn't well tested...

    Police fear radio gaps jeopardize safety

    Louise Dickson Times Colonist Wednesday, June 18, 2003

    Victoria police are riding double in their patrol cars for what they say is their own safety until communication breakdowns with the new $17.5-million CREST radio system are repaired.

    "It's serious," Insp. Grant Smith said Tuesday. "Until we solve the problem, our first priority is the safety of our members and the citizens out on the street and it's just better to have a partner when communications are an issue."

    CREST, a radio system built by Motorola, was introduced this spring and has linked all police, fire, ambulance and transit in the capital region. While smaller police forces and fire departments have experienced some spotty coverage, Victoria police officers and dispatchers are having trouble talking to each other in parkades, in buildings constructed with concrete, steel or glass, and even on the bottom two floors and main floor of the Victoria police station.

    Deputy police chief Geoff Varley said he became concerned when two officers, engaged in a high speed chase in downtown Victoria, could not get through to the dispatcher on their CREST radios.

    "That had great potential to be quite serious," said Varley. "Our member safety is really important. It's important that they've got the capacity to talk to a dispatcher."

    The problem is double-barrelled, said Varley. In some cases, dispatchers have not been able to contact police on the beat. "Officers have to know when the public needs assistance," he said.

    The Victoria Fire Department was experiencing the same problems in buildings and in parkades. It is now using the CREST radio equipment with an old transmission system instead of the new one.

    Smith said the breakdowns are "not acceptable."

    Victoria police want a one-channel seamless radio system, he said.

    To overcome coverage problems at the Caledonia Avenue police station, officers are required to switch their radios to an "uplink" system so they can connect to the communications centre. Posters have been placed at entrances and exits to remind officers to switch their radios over as they enter and leave the building.

    "The problem is if a member is on uplink and goes out on a call and forgets to change back to the regular channel, he may miss information being broadcast," said Smith. "We are disappointed and that's why we're working towards the solution as quickly as we can. CREST is well aware of the issues."

    Victoria police have found that going back to the old system isn't an option, but would have seriously considered if it was possible, said Smith.

    CREST general manager Paul Murray said it will take three to four months to fine tune the CREST system. He is working with police and the fire department to examine problem areas on a site-by-site, case-by-case basis.

    One short-term solution to the poor coverage in buildings and parkades can be fixed by installing repeater systems at key locations in the downtown area. The long-term solution will be to install a new tower, perhaps on top of the Sussex Building.

    Equipment worth up to $35,000 will be installed at the police station by July 15 to improve coverage within the building. Other equipment should be installed in downtown Victoria by late August.

    Murray said the problems have not been caused by any short cuts or attempts to save money.

    "We have funding available for that," said Murray. "It's not going to cost anybody any more money."

    Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe, who is chairman of the police board, said he is not alarmed by the problems.

    "We knew there were going to be some problems in the implementation phase. We all knew that and I'm glad a lot of these issues are coming out now so we can deal with it," said Lowe.

    "The entire region knows this is going to be a much better system because we can communicate with each other. It integrates and consolidates emergency services."

    © Copyright 2003 Times Colonist (Victoria)
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