Loose Lips

Fire Department Considers Encrypting Scanner Traffic

The D.C. fire department could soon follow the Metropolitan Police Department's lead and encrypt some of its radio transmissions, according to Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander.

Quander says the department is considering a solution that would leave some traffic open while encrypting calls. He cited dispatch calls to emergency as an example of traffic that could stay unencrypted.

While MPD encrypted its radios in 2011, the push to encrypt fire department radios came only after September's Navy Yard massacre, according to Quander. "It puts law enforcement, first responders, and the public in a very precarious position," he says.

Incidentally, if there's any publicly available evidence that Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis listened to emergency broadcasts during his rampage, LL hasn't been able to find it. Quander spokesman Keith St. Clair tells LL that he's not aware of any either, but says that emergency radio streaming on the Internet is "a potentially huge problem."

D.C. fire union boss Ed Smith says he can understand the desire for encryption, but worries that it would cause problems with neighboring counties' emergency service.

"I don't know if that would impact them being able to communicate with us in the event of a large-scale incident," Smith says.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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