Report: Radio Encryption Not an Issue in Smoke-Filled Metro Incident

A report released late Friday night by D.C.'s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency says radio encryption issues did not play a direct role in communication difficulties experienced during last week's deadly smoke-filled Metro incident.

D.C. Fire and Emergency Management Services (FEMS) started using new radios with expanded capabilities, including the ability to go to encrypted channels last December, after performing more than 600 tests over two years. Those radios had some connectivity issues interacting with Metro's radio system according to multiple reports.

D.C. Fire tested out the new radios four days prior to the Jan. 12 incident and experienced communication issues. In one test, D.C. Fire said there were issues in the tunnels at the Stadium-Armory Metro station.

Both Metro and D.C. Fire troubleshot the radios and couldn't figure out what the problem was prior to Jan. 12. 

Metro went on record Thursday to say D.C. Fire couldn't communicate during the response because they changed switches in a control room at 1 Judiciary Square and didn't notify Metro. Metro said those controls were changed as part of D.C. Fire's new encryption code change.

According to the report, the initial response was centered at Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station. A slew of FEMS units weren't dispatched to L'Enfant Plaza until 3:28 p.m. -- about 13 minutes after passengers were halted in the Yellow Line tunnel just past L'Enfant as it filled with smoke.

The report shed more light into the nature of the "sporadic" communication among first responders; they communicated via "runners and face-to-face, the talk-around features on their radios, and cell phones" when their radios failed.


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Once in the L'Enfant Tunnel, the report says some rescuers responded to the Green Line tunnel within L'Enfant Metro station instead of the Yellow Line tunnel.

"They traveled to the Green Line at the split and doubled back when they didn't find the train there," the report says.

In addition to tunnel confusion, the report states that the operator of a second train that had halted at the L'Enfant platform abandoned ship prior to the arrival of first responders.

According to the report, passengers had been instructed to open side doors of the train to let themselves out once the electricity to the third rail was cut off but they were unable to do so.

Around 3:46 p.m., rescue personnel had to open the train car doors with the keys they carry, at which point they pulled an unconscious passenger out of the tunnel. That passenger, later identified as Carol Glover, passed away.

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