Problems with an audio card Sunday hindered HPD radios.

Faulty part
cripples police radios

A broken audio card halts
communications on a radio channel

By Nelson Daranciang

The software problem that forced the Honolulu Police Department to shut down the emergency feature on its new digital radio system Sunday was caused by a malfunction in a single computer component, police said.

The feature allows an officer to override all other communications on a channel to broadcast an emergency. Each of the eight patrol districts has seven channels.

The problem started when an officer inadvertently pressed the emergency button on his radio at 9:42 a.m., Assistant Chief Karl Godsey said yesterday.

A dispatcher was able to contact with the officer and determine there was no emergency, but could not restore communications over that channel, Godsey said.

"What ended up happening was no one could hear dispatch and dispatch couldn't hear the officers," he said.

Dispatchers made hourly announcements to officers in all districts telling them to refrain from using the emergency button on their hand-held radios for seven hours until technicians could determine the cause of the problem.

At 1 p.m. police performed a test using the emergency feature in a different patrol district.

"What we didn't know was if it was a malfunction with a single radio or the entire system," Godsey said.

When the same problem occurred, a representative from radio system manufacturer MA-COM, who is in Honolulu training HPD technicians, determined that an audio card in the system had locked up. He was able to restore communications on the channel by rebooting the card.

"What was interesting was that the MA-COM representative said this is the first time he has seen this occur," Godsey said.

Officers were given clearance to use the emergency feature on their radios by 4:30 p.m.

This was the second time the police department was forced to shut down at least a portion of its new radio system since switching to digital from the old analog system two-and-a-half months ago.

On April 17, HPD was forced to rely on its backup analog system when an accumulation of data in the digital system caused interference with voice radio transmissions.

Officers have also complained that the system, which allows officers to retrieve driver's license, vehicle registration and warrant information with mobile computers, is slower than getting a dispatcher to look up the information for them and then relay it over the radio.

A switch to a backup server while the regular server is being worked on is causing the slowdown, said Patrick Chau, a supervisor in HPD's Information Technology Division. Technicians are working on the regular server to make sure it is compatible with all of the software that has been loaded, Chau said.

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