D.C. radio communications lost after power failure

"We've invested in the best and we should get the best service."

wtopstaff | November 15, 2014 11:22 am

WASHINGTON – For five minutes Tuesday, D.C. police radios were barely usable due to a major power failure at the city’s communication center.

The center, which serves as dispatch and handles 911 calls for the police and fire departments, were running on generator power for 13 hours when the generators “failed causing a catastrophic communication failure,” according to a statement from the Office of Unified Communications.

“I think the equipment failure could be considered catastrophic, but their ultimate back-up system worked — where they have a second site, a second building that has full communications capacity — that backup building was put into place and it worked,” said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6, who chairs the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

The communications center had experienced interruptions in the building’s power supply and switched to the generators to ensure the building had a reliable power source. Staff also moved to an alternate site to continue 911 call-taking.

The power cut out just before 1 p.m. and affected communications with the Metropolitan Police Department. There was not a gap with fire and emergency services.

Police radios were “severely impacted” for five minutes before operating in back- up mode for another 20 minutes. Firefighters were able to communicate in back-up mode. Callers to 911 experienced longer wait times and 311 services were completely disabled for 16 minutes.

The power was restored and all systems were working by Tuesday evening around 5 p.m.

Wells said on WTOP Wednesday that D.C. has one of the most updated, state-of-the-art emergency communications systems in the country and he will work to get to the bottom of the problem.

“There’s no excuse,” Wells said on WTOP Wednesday. “We’ve got, supposedly, one of the best emergency call centers in the country.”

The communications office says it is working with the Department of General Services to determine what caused the power outage.

“Apparently there’s a protocol on how long you use this equipment before it needs to be replaced. It sounds like the equipment just wore out,” said Wells.

Wells adds that he would like to hear from people who called 911 and didn’t get a response.

“We’ve invested in the best and we should get the best service,” Wells says.

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