State misses power bill for emergency radio tower

KUSA - A radio tower used by emergency responders in rural Colorado lost power on Aug. 6 because state officials failed to pay the electric bill for the facility.

The Governor's Office of Information Technology, which maintains the radio tower, told 9NEWS on Wednesday that it sent a technician to the site and power was restored "within minutes" using emergency backup generators.

On Thursday, the agency said it confirmed that radio service at the site was not interrupted at all because the generators switched on immediately after the power was shut off.

OIT officials tell 9NEWS they are "currently standardizing business processes to ensure that such instances do not occur in the future."

9NEWS first learned of the problem through a tip from an anonymous source claiming to work for OIT.

The office said regular power was restored the following day at 11:26 a.m.

The shut-off occurred at the Boyero site of the state's Digital Trunked Radio System (DRTS) which provides digital radio services to local, state, and federal government agencies for emergency response.

The tower is located in a remote area, a 13-mile drive down dirt roads outside the town of Hugo, Colorado.

The location is one of 212 radio sites in Colorado's system. Losing the site would have affected up to 88 of the more than 70,000 radios connected to DRTS, according to agency officials.

A spokesperson for OIT described the financial issue as "delayed payment of an invoice, which was addressed immediately."

The 319-foot tall Boyero radio tower serves a 40 mile radius around the site, according to FCC records, an area that includes the town of Limon, Colorado.

The state has made a high priority of avoiding outages to the DTRS system, completing the first phase of a $13.9 million upgrade to the system in late 2013.

At the time, the OIT boasted of the system's function as a vital communications lifeline during the 2013 floods in Colorado.

DTRS proved extremely successful in recent months as Colorado faced unprecedented flooding. In just three days in September, more than 7 million radio calls were fielded through DTRS as first responders began the tough work of flood rescue and recovery. The normal volume in any given month is approximately 8 million calls.

In a particularly stark example of the need for DTRS, the town of Estes Park lost nearly all means of communication during the floods. When phone lines went down, DTRS became the main way for police, fire and ambulance crews to relay vital information to each other and to communities outside of Estes Park.

The 2013 improvements increased the security of the software that handles radio traffic, with the goal of avoiding disruptions.

Future phases of the upgrade are designed to allow the system to handle more radios.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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