OSHA fines Portland for radio failures
The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division has fined the city of Portland $3,600 for failures in its emergency radio dispatch system, according to a story published in the Oregonian and written by Maxine Bernstein.
The story reports that inspectors found violations in which Portland police officers had been unable to call for cover on their portable radios, unable to communicate with fellow officers responding to a call or unable to contact a dispatcher when stopping a suspect.
A complaint from Portland police Sgt. Lonn Sweeney prompted state inspections in April and June. Sweeney had sent numerous memos detailing the problems to the Portland Police Bureau and its chiefs during the past five years. He said he filed the complaint because he never got a response.
More than 80 agencies in the metro area use Portland’s $8.5 million, 800MHz radio system, manufactured by Motorola and operating since 1994.
OR-OSHA, in its citation, identified three shortcomings that the city had not addressed. The first shortcoming was in not making the orange emergency button on officers’ hand-helds operational. The radio system is supposed to allow an officer to press the button in case of emergency, but it never has been programmed. The button would override any other voice traffic.
The city argued that a policy decision had been made not to use the emergency buttons because they might be activated accidentally, lock other channels from use or interfere with dispatch.
The second shortcoming cited was not ensuring that officers have adequate radio communications capability in all areas of Portland. OR-OSHA found that officers hit coverage nulls in certain parts of the city, preventing them from calling for cover or contacting other officers in their districts because of inadequate radio signal strength.
The third shortcoming identified was failing to expand the system sufficiently to keep it from becoming overloaded as new users were added to it. When the system was installed, only a handful of Portland bureaus used it. In the past six years, the number of radio users has snowballed to include seven Portland bureaus and 80 outside agencies.
The city contends the system can handle the expansion of users and plans to challenge the citation.