'Chaos on the radio:' documents detail failures during Parkland shooting

Many first responders heard only static, alarms as shooting unfolded

By Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor

PARKLAND, Fla. - Authorities released new documents Friday, detailing how communications failures hampered the response to the Parkland school shooting with one detective describing it as "chaos on the radio."

Multiple law enforcement agencies -- including the Broward County Sheriff's Office and the Coral Springs Police Department -- responded to the Valentine's Day shooting that left 17 people dead and dozens of others wounded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Earlier reports have detailed how school officials, Coral Springs police officers and Broward sheriff's deputies using separate communications systems were unable to share information over their radios. In Friday's documents, dispatchers told Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators that many first responders did not receive radio transmissions at all because the amount of radio traffic overloaded the system. 

"They could hear nothing, just complete silence, because nobody was able to get on the radio,"
said Lisa Zarazinski, director of the Regional Communications Division for the BSO.

At points, first responders just heard static interference. At other times when the amount of radio traffic overloaded the system, officers heard a loud alarm on all the radios, a technical error called "site trunking."

"There's too many users in the system. Tell people to limit their transmissions more," one county official told dispatchers on the day of the shooting.

Dispatcher Paula Tancredi told investigators that the BSO encountered similar failures months earlier, when a gunman shot five people at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January 2017.

Broward County officials had sought to upgrade their radio system after the airport shooting, but spent months figuring out which contract to select. The new system won't be in place until the end of 2019.

"Any big incident like that, everybody needs to talk or wants to talk, and it overloads the system, and it will crash if you don't get them to bring it down to a minimum," Tancredi said.

Coral Springs police Detective David Alfin said he and his partner, David Gariepy, were alerted about a shooting at Stoneman Douglas, but little else.

"There was a little bit of chaos on the radio.  I don't remember any specific details being given out about what was occurring other than there was possibly a shooting and they weren't sure if it was still ongoing or not," Alfin said.

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