Sometimes something happens that smacks me up-side the head with reality’s baseball bat.
Last night it was a couple of sentences on the local news, when the anchor mentioned that police in Joplin were “operating in little islands” because they couldn’t communicate, their comms system was down.
My husband saw the flash in my eyes and braced himself for the fifteen minute rant.
The comms link is always the first one to break. Always.
Every. Fucking. Time.
I know that of which I speak.
It has claimed the lives of my colleagues and it damned near got me once…Two helicopters, one helipad and incompatible radios. We missed one another by less than ten feet and only avoided catastrophe because both pilots made the right split-second call.
I have been bitching about the comms link from just about my first day on the job, but fifteen minutes after the patient we were transporting was stabilized, I was in the office screaming at my boss about the need for compatible radios. My bitching got louder and constant after that.
That was in the mid-nineties. A couple of years later, I moved to Kansas City, where my husband was born and raised, to assure my children a contiguous high school experience.
I got here just in time to be right in the middle of an emergency-radio fiasco that literally cost some emergency personnel their lives when it didn’t work properly; there were random “dead spots” scattered all over the city. It really got the community fired up and involved when a policeman was shot and calling for help into a dead radio that had worked just five feet from where he fell.
Then the company that installed the system, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars stopped making replacement parts, and the city was forced to scramble for equipment, sometimes even buying parts off eBay.
And I haven’t even mentioned the members of the NYFD who were killed on September 11 because they didn’t hear the warnings from the police department that the second tower was going to come down because their radios were incompatible.
During Hurricane Katrina, emergency personnel were forced to resort to running hand-written notes to communicate with one another.
The dirty little secret is, an emergency responder lose his or her life somewhere in this country because of faulty communications equipment several times every year.
And god-damnit, once is too damned often for the people who step up to serve and protect in exchange for a hard-earned, barely-middle-class lifestyle.
And fixing it would be pretty damned easy, but it would cost money and it would interfere with the crony-capitalism model of running government for the benefit of a few politically connected folks at the expense of the taxpayers.
This is wholly unacceptable.
The overall challenge is extremely complex and getting moreso every day that it is delayed. It touches on questions of financing, in an era of “HULK SAY TAXES ALWAYS BAAADDD!” And then there are the broadcast spectrum fights as technological innovations chip away at the available bandwidths. And I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t mention the pissing contests that go on between local politicians and public safety agencies.
Enough already. While people who will never be endangered by any of this crap piss and moan and point fingers, my colleagues die, and I am god-damned sick of it, so one more time, with feeling, I am going to tell the powers that be how to solve this problem.
It starts with Homeland Security asking the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers to establish interoperability parameters. They are non-political and have proven themselves capable of establishing industry standards. Then, when the IEEE has done their job and standards are established, implement them. Allocate the money, and use the Hammer of God — i.e. the supremacy of the federal government — to squelch the chin music of the local authorities who always have a constituent or crony who benefits from the status quo.
That’s the way the world works. Let’s drop the pretence and accept that the status quo is getting good people killed and show claws and fangs to anyone who resists the necessary change. Their resistance kills the people who are there to save your ass should the unthinkable happen.