Dispatch system fails, disrupting emergency calls in Detroit

Downtown DetroitDetroit’s emergency dispatch system failed early this morning for the second time in less than two months, causing a backlog of fire, police and EMS calls and jeopardizing public safety.
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At 1:50 a.m., one of the busiest times of night for crimes and fires, dispatchers notified emergency personnel that the radio system had malfunctioned. That meant officers, firefighters and paramedics were forced to use phones, delaying response times and causing confusion.

“Central office is not able to receive any transmission by radio,” dispatchers said.

As of noon today, the system was down sporadically.

“There is an emergency in the streets right now,” Dan McNamara, president of Detroit Fire Fighters Association, told me, saying the malfunction is forcing crews to handle emergencies with very limited information and feedback from the dispatch center.

The radio system, which is used to communicate between 911 and emergency crews, also failed on July 5, prompting Police Chief James Craig to pledge at the time that the problem would never reemerge.

“It was a total failure,” he said. “This will never happen again.”

The chief blamed the last crash on the city’s failure to test the backup system.

“I made a commitment that this would not happen again, but unfortunately it did,” Craig said said today.

Despite the communication failure, callers could still reach 911, Stephens said.
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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.