Emergence Alum Making a Difference: Improving Restoration of Oakland Fire Communications during Operations

Oakland Fire Department’s Patrick Stueve experienced two incidents earlier this year that underscored to him the need for a strategy that overcomes the loss of communications among firefighters during an emergency response. 

Oakland, CA, Fire Department Firefighter Patrick Stueve

During a Winter Storm Site Trunking Event, high winds de-aligned the microwave link between public safety radio tower sites, leaving firefighters only able to communicate with each other when they were in the same radio antenna coverage area rather than the usual two-county capacity. Stueve said the 24-hour outage was disruptive to dispatch procedures and caused field unit confusion. 

Also this year, the InterSubSystem Interface between Oakland Fire’s radio system and the light rail radio system failed for several days. The system provides a link between the underground radio system used in the 3.5-mile Transbay Tube and the normal radio system used by Oakland Fire aboveground, and the outage left Oakland Fire units unable to communicate between the two areas. Stueve said it took several hours for officials to agree on and test a procedure to overcome the lack of communication. 

According to Stueve, Oakland is “vulnerable to several natural, technological, and human-caused hazards that may adversely impact fire department communication” and when an incident occurs from one of those hazards, Oakland Fire’s communications are “adversely impacted either by direct impact to communication infrastructure or by the resulting demand load on the remaining infrastructure by city residents.” 

In response, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security alum (Emergence Program cohort 2202) made developing a policy and a quick reference guide for restoring communications, along with providing training and exercises, his Emergence change initiative, entitled “Pocket ACES: Adverse Communication Event Strategy.” 

“The goal is for Oakland Fire to establish a more resilient communication strategy that gets firefighters out of radio troubleshooting and back into firefighting.” 

– Patrick Stueve

Stueve said his CHDS experience was integral to his change initiative proposal and will boost his work moving forward. The Emergence Program “has been unlike any other professional program I have attended,” he said. “This six-month course not only featured instructors and guest speakers that are dedicated and professional homeland security practitioners, but the carefully selected cohort led to insightful and complex discussions. After this program, I have a fresh perspective and a broad array of sources and tools to take back to the Oakland Fire Department.”

Stueve said his change initiative is designed to provide a prearranged guide for field units with instructions for how to restore communications, and would include developing and training on a policy that applied to a wide range of incident types and communication failure modes. 

The goal, he said, is for Oakland Fire to establish a “more resilient communication strategy that gets firefighters out of radio troubleshooting and back into firefighting.” 

Stueve said specific steps would be determined by a working group but would likely provide instructions for using the primary trunking radio system, switching to a conventional repeated radio system, using direct line-of-sight frequencies, handling message priority, and utilizing auxiliary communications personnel and runners. 

“It is my hope that Oakland Fire can lead the development of this policy and bring it to the Alameda County Fire Chief’s Association Section for countywide distribution,” he said. 

Progress so far has been limited to approval by his immediate supervisor, Stueve said, due to the combination of a change in Oakland Fire’s executive leadership and his Family Medical Leave.

Upon returning to active duty, Stueve said he plans to present the problem and his proposed solution to Oakland Fire’s executive leadership at the weekly Executive Staff Meeting and submit a form for the policy proposal. He said he hopes to receive approval to chair an ad hoc group for development of the policy and quick reference guide.

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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