Police Chief James Craig 'appalled' by Detroit emergency radio failure; MSP system in use as backup

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Detroit's emergency dispatch system failed early Friday morning and the city's new police chief says he's "appalled" that a redundant system did not kick in.

The radio system used for communication between 911 dispatchers and Detroit's police, fire and EMS crews went down around 5:30 a.m. Friday morning, causing a backlog of hundreds of calls and putting public safety at risk.

Michigan State Police stepped in to allow Detroit's emergency system to use the state's communication towers. This backup is still being used while crews work to restore the Detroit system.

Police Chief James Craig called an afternoon press conference where he thanked those who worked extraordinarily long shifts due to the outage and he questioned why the city's own backup system did not operate as it's supposed to in the event of a failure.

Flanked by a representative from Motorola, the system's vendor, Craig said, "This will not happen again." He expressed displeasure that the city has a Motorola maintenance contract, but no one had recently tested the system's ability to recover from a failure like today's.

"At approximately 5:30 a.m., we had a technical issue with our towers…we had some hardware issues," said Detroit Police Commander Todd Bettison.

Officials say the morning malfunction didn't affect the public's ability to make calls to 911.

Detroit Police Spokeswoman Sergeant Eren Stephens said that there are more than 60 priority 1 calls and more than 170 non-emergency calls were backed up because of the issue. 

Stephens said part of the reason for the back up was that officers were being sent out in pairs for safety concerns on priority 1 calls because there was no dispatch to communicate if something went wrong and backup was needed. 

Since the system is now running, officers are not doubling up on calls anymore. But what caused the problem in the first place is still unknown.  

"We have Motorola techs on hand now--we're still assessing the situation, investigating as to what's going on," said Bettison. 

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