to communicate: P25 radio breakdowns worry first responders
safety officials note system collapse during serious house fire
Cody Neuenschwander and George Myers Kokomo
firefighters had to battle more than just flames Monday at a serious
house fire when a malfunction made portable radio communication
communication problems have plagued first responders since switching
over to the P25 radio system, according to authorities from various
have prompted Howard County officials to begin serious discussions with
EF Johnson Technologies, the company hired to install and maintain the
local P25 system, about how to resolve the persistent mishaps.
system, installed in mid-2017, was meant to ensure that responders who
once carried three, sometimes four radios would see their load reduced
to one simple piece of equipment connecting them to any P25 compatible
radio system throughout Indiana.
officials also said the switch to Indiana’s P25 system - the program
utilizes three towers placed strategically throughout Howard County -
would allow for simplicity of conversations in dangerous situations.
That has not
a Kokomo Fire Department (KFD) fire report, when firefighters were
battling flames at a house fire at 916 E. Firmin St. early Monday
morning, they were unable to get in contact with the dispatch center
upon arriving on the scene.
report, Battalion Chief Brad Myers noted he had to return to a vehicle
and use his personal cellphone to contact the dispatch center.
displaying a message stating “out of range,” which 911 Communications
Director Gary Bates said indicates something isn’t functioning properly.
Myers had all fire personnel,
who were only able to communicate face-to-face, leave the burning
structure and switch all communication over to the local backup system.
Firefighters then returned to the house.
was devastated, and one person staying at the structure was transported
to Community Howard Regional Health for possible smoke inhalation. The
fire’s origin appeared to be in a kitchen area, and the cause is
Monday that public safety departments have been moved over to the
backup channel temporarily while EF Johnson personnel investigate and
determine the exact cause of the malfunction.
the “radio system isn’t failing” but he also noted that the setback was
“unacceptable." In the midst of thousands of radio calls, all it takes
is one glitch under dire circumstances to raise legitimate concerns, he
regularly scheduled Howard County Board of Commissioner meeting Monday,
officials discussed the malfunction, saying various departments,
officials and EF Johnson personnel are working closely to eliminate any
hadn’t had all the issues leading up the incident … we would be sitting
around saying, ‘Gosh, this is a great system, because it’s got a backup
system, we went to it immediately,’” said Sheriff Steve Rogers during
fact that we had this problem and they’re still working to identify
that particular problem, coupled with what we had before, really drives
it home that we’ve got to get their attention to get this system up and
County Commissioner Paul Wyman acknowledged that seamless communication
between first responders and the dispatch center is imperative, and
also expressed confidence the issues will be ironed out through
brief interview after the meeting, Wyman said county officials plan to
talk again with EF Johnson personnel at 3 p.m. today. He also noted
that company officials were monitoring Howard County’s three P25 tower
sites to isolate the most recent problems.
explained that EF Johnson was in Howard County last week installing
additional software and updates. Following their visit, county
officials were expecting to see the benefits of that work this week, he
getting the modulations and the sound levels worked out. We have so
many different users on the system, [we're] getting that coordinated,”
he said. “If a transmission comes through garbled or a transmission
isn’t heard by either a dispatcher or someone in the field, [they need
to make] those adjustments to the software.”
early Monday morning’s incident took place, throwing a new problem into
they’ve got to fix that issue from [Monday morning] so that we can see
the benefits of that work they did when they were here last week,” he
night’s issue was pieces of equipment and software not talking to each
other. And that’s what [EF Johnson is] monitoring to determine what
caused that so they can fix it.”
that once Monday morning’s issue is rectified, the company expects to
see “significant improvement” within the next two to three weeks.
that the sheriff’s department hasn’t experienced “the extent of the
problems” that other local agencies, notably the Kokomo Police
Department, have encountered since the P25 program was implemented.
Rogers said KPD officers have had ongoing issues with officers being
heard on the radio system.
Brian Seldon said officers have reported experiencing communication
problems, adding, “It’s serious, and we’re not taking this lightly.”
conjunction, KPD. Maj. Tony Arnett explained some of the problems
officers have experienced, saying voices sometimes aren’t audible over
the radio when information is being sent from officer to officer, or
from an officer to the dispatch center.
problems are “just horribly dangerous," said Arnett.
their relative luck so far, the issue is no less concerning for county
“This is a
very complex system, and it’s worked flawlessly in some respects, but
we are still having some issues,” Rogers added.
over the weekend really concerns us because EF Johnson, by their own
statement, they’re not sure exactly what caused that problem.”
local officials had two “pointed” conference calls Monday with EF
Johnson personnel about the serious nature of the P25 bugs.
safety is very serious and we’re concerned about this,” noted Rogers.
Neuenschwander can be reached at 765-454-8570 or by email at