Florida Troopers' radios on the blink again

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Published Sunday, July 23, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Troopers' radios on the blink FHP cuts back on traffic stops BY CHARLES RABIN crabin@herald.com

For at least the third time since February, more than 200 Florida Highway Patrol troopers from Key West through Broward County were forced to cut back significantly on their traffic stops Saturday when the agency's multimillion-dollar radio system sputtered just short of a total collapse.

At 2:56 p.m., without warning, the system went nearly dead. Only a limited backup worked until about 7 p.m., when the radios could be used for restricted emergency communications. FHP officials expected them to be fully operational by midnight.

FHP Lt. Ernesto Duarte, spokesman for Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, said technicians with Motorola determined lightning caused the problem.

``We had severe lightning hit behind our station,'' at 1011 NW 111th Ave., Duarte said. ``It burned up one of our cables and one of our generators. While the dispatchers were on, they could actually hear a crispy noise and then it went out.''

It was a lucky evening for speeders. FHP ordered troopers for personal safety reasons not to stop vehicles, except in extreme circumstances.

Officers could only speak to each other in limited areas. Luckily for troopers and public safety, Saturday afternoon and early evening were relatively quiet, Miami-Dade and Broward officials said.

``A trooper in the south end near a tower can only hear another trooper in that area,'' Duarte said. ``There is no communications outside that area. If we get a 911 call we can only get there on a limited basis.''

Duarte said the only way officers in Monroe could communicate with each other in the afternoon was through cellular telephones. By early evening, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office had helped put together a makeshift communication system of hand-held radios for the troopers.

Dade officers had the use of the weak backup system called a mutual-aid channel.

Workers for Chicago-based Motorola spent Saturday going through a checklist of possible problems, slowly eliminating each one. Duarte said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the state's Game and Wildlife Commission were also affected by the power outage.

While speculating just before 6 p.m. on what caused the outage, Broward's FHP spokesman Lt. Gene Hingson heard a sudden crackle shortly before dinner time -- then lots of voices.

``I'm sure the weather is what got it. It's a killer,'' he said. ``Oh wait, we're back to normal.''

Unfortunately for Monroe and Dade, Duarte could not say the same until more than an hour later.

The last time the department's system went on the blink in February, FHP suffered sporadic outages for more than a week.

The computerized system is designed to monitor itself by going into backup mode when computers or technicians see problems that might lead to a more serious shutdown.

That backup mode offers limited two-way communications between dispatchers and officers.

Herald staff writer Elaine de Valle contributed to this story.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 24, 2000


I'm confused on this one. Is the official explanation supposed to be a lightning strike?

-- Lilly LP (lillyLP@aol.com), July 24, 2000.

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