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Takeaways from DEC radio problems

June 6, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

The state Department of Environmental Conservation set itself up for problems when it started replacing its Ray Brook radio dispatching unit with a $750,000 Radio-Over-Internet-Protocol system without testing it in the Adirondacks. Yes, the system had been tested elsewhere, but the Park requires more DEC radio reliance than other parts of New York, and unusual geography to boot.

So far this year, the DEC has been using the new system along with a reduced version of the Ray Brook dispatch unit, but the local center is meant to be phased out if and when bugs are worked out at Albany's central dispatch hub. It's a good thing the DEC kept Ray Brook on as long as it did, because forest rangers and other staff have been saying the new system fails so often they don't trust it, according to internal emails Enterprise Outdoors Writer Mike Lynch obtained and reported on May 28.

Another problem has been Albany dispatchers' unfamiliarity with Adirondack geography; some egregious and embarrassing errors were revealed.

Some rangers say the DEC has been lucky not to have anyone injured or die as a result of communication breakdown.

Behind the scenes, it's clear Mr. Lynch's reporting touched a nerve. The DEC press office is bristling over it, and administrators have been grilling staff in order to plug leaks.

The problem doesn't warrant such an angry response. The Enterprise isn't accusing the DEC of any intentional evil. We're just stating the facts about a half-implemented system that still isn't ready for prime time. We also find much in this story that reflects well on the department:

-DEC administrators in Albany acknowledged problems in the Adirondacks and said they won't shut down Ray Brook's dispatch if it makes people unsafe.

-This shows DEC employees feel confident enough to raise concerns, expecting to be heard.

-Our nation's various emergency radio systems are quickly becoming obsolete, and the DEC change was part of a statewide upgrade plan being put together by New York's Office of Technology. That, in theory, is a good thing.

Implementation obviously could have been done better, but in as huge and unwieldy a state agency as this, it's not all that surprising.

In 20-20 hindsight, we hope this is a lesson to everyone to look before you leap, and to test new technology before you spend a lot of money and restructure your staff to implement it.

Maybe it will also prompt administrators and workers in the field to listen to each other more.

But most of all, we hope it teaches DEC leaders not to underestimate the uniqueness of the Adirondacks, where the department fulfills a special, more prominent role than it does elsewhere. This situation is another reason for the DEC to shift its internal boundaries to put the Adirondack Park all in one region. What works for the rest of New York won't necessarily work here.

Instead of conforming with the rest of the state, the Adirondack Park should be the DEC's heartland, the holy ground it holds up to the rest of New York to say, "This is the soul of environmental conservation."



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