Police communications disrupted by lightning

June 10, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County police briefly lost full use of their radi communications yesterday because of a delayed reaction from strong, predawn lightning storms, officials said.

The problem began when lightning hit power lines, sending surges through two of the county's eight signal towers -- one at Red Run near Owings Mills and the other on Allender Road. The lightning also damaged a battery backup for the system in Allender Road, said Fred Homan, the county's budget director and the man in charge of its sophisticated 800 megahertz radio system.

Despite newly modified equipment designed to prevent such problems, the electric overload momentarily disrupted communications at around 3 a.m., Mr. Homan said.

Problems with the system cropped up again several times later in the day, said Mr. Homan and police Col. Leonard J. Supenski. It was then that officials found out that lightning had damaged the battery backup.

By 9:30 a.m., the radio signal had deteriorated to the point that some officers' voices were unintelligible. Around noon, the system became so unreliable that officers were ordered to return to their station houses to be dispatched by telephone, Colonel Supenski said. However, by 1 p.m. the system was fixed, and telephones never had to be used, Colonel Supenski said.

"Every call [for police service] was monitored," he said, adding that routine calls were put aside temporarily to ensure that emergency responses would not be delayed.

The communications failure was not universal, he said, but affected only small numbers of officers at different times in different areas during the morning.

The $32 million communications system was installed in the late 1980s to enable police and fire units all over the sprawling county's 680 square miles to communicate with one another directly -- something they had never been able to do before.

Mr. Homan said technicians are trouble-shooting to see what can be done to prevent future problems, but he said surge-suppression equipment has been installed.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.