Chesapeake Bay Bridge crash report lists radio problems

State agencies could not talk directly; say efforts were unaffected

News The Baltimore Sun August 23, 2007
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A May 10 crash on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge killed three, and rescue workers from five state agencies were unable to communicate with each other by radio when they responded to the crash.

A post-accident report written by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police said state agencies did not have compatible communications equipment, though officials said command procedures in place mitigated the issue.

"We're not aware that it materially affected the incident," said John Contestabile, the Maryland Department of Transportation's director of engineering and emergency services.

Battalion Chief Michael Cox, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, said rescue workers from his county and from Queen Anne's County had radios that used the same technology.

Although the state agencies didn't, commanders were able to manage the response by using protocols developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Cox said.

To ensure communication to all rescue workers in the field, Cox said, representatives from each of the agencies assembled at a command post where decisions were made.

Post-accident reports are standard after major incidents such as the Chesapeake Bay crash, which forced the closing of the westbound span of the bridge for about 7.5 hours.

"I don't believe at all that whatever they're citing in that report made any difference in the outcome of this incident," Cox said. "A unified command system was established."

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has made communications among law enforcement and emergency response agencies one of his administration's top priorities, recently discussed interoperable communications with local leaders for more than an hour at the Maryland Association of Counties Meeting.

O’Malley said he considers it unacceptable that nearly six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the state's communications systems still are flawed.

Contestabile said the state has employed a consultant for more than a year in its effort to make Maryland emergency responder teams more unified. But that effort is time-consuming and costly. In the meantime, Contestabile said, much of the state and federal investment in homeland security has gone to technological patches that help workers overcome the issue.

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