NKY emergency system may have been disrupted by illegal radio interference

Officials are calling it a ‘digital echo’

Trouble with emergency radio system

GALLATIN COUNTY, KY (FOX19) - Gallatin County dispatchers and first responders are having trouble communicating during emergencies.

Anytime emergency crews are sent to a scene, whether it is law enforcement officers, firefighters or other county officials, it is critical, officials say, that they are able to communicate with Gallatin County dispatchers. Investigators believe someone is illegally using an unauthorized radio to get access to the county’s emergency system, which could put people in danger.

“We are dispatching for police, fire, EMS, county road services, animal control, county-wide," said Ryan Bailey, the systems administrator for Gallatin County Public Safety Communications.

Regardless of the kind of emergency, whether it is a car wreck, a fire, or a shooting, the dispatchers and those in the field use their advanced analog radio system to share significant information with each other. For instance, they may need to request a helicopter or call for backup. However, there is currently a problem that is causing complications with their communication. Sometimes when they are speaking to each other via the radio system, there is what officials call a “digital echo.”

It causes the audio to sound jumbled and difficult to understand.

“They just hear a garbled mess. They won’t hear my traffic," said Bailey.

Bailey said it does not happen every call or even every day, but when it does occur, it could cause delays in emergency response times or could lead to miscommunications.

“May cause an issue for public safety," said Bailey.

At first, dispatch officials thought that an equipment malfunction caused the strange sounds. Now, they said they know it is someone breaking the law and interfering with the fire channel by using the county’s frequency information to operate an unauthorized radio.

“It’s tying up radio traffic so that we can’t transmit," said Bailey. "Our responders can’t transmit.”

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Bailey said not only is it illegal, it is also dangerous. The Federal Communications Commission, Bailey said, is bringing in technology to help them pinpoint where it is coming from and who is responsible for it.

“I can’t tell you why somebody would want to do this honestly. I don’t know. There’s no win," said Bailey." Nobody is winning by doing this.”

Local investigators are on the hunt too and are ready to put a stop to it before anyone gets hurt.

“I have the county attorney and the sheriff behind on this, and there will be criminal charges pressed if we can find them because it’s a hindrance to public safety," said Bailey.

Bailey said they are working around the clock to try to resolve the problem. They are asking anyone with any information to come forward and report it by contacting Bailey at the dispatch center at 859-567-7800, option two, or by contacting the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office.

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