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In the aftermath of this week's Navy Yard shooting, questions continue to be raised not just about shooter and his actions, but about the seemingly limited effectiveness of the first response. Several firefighters and police officers say that they had trouble communicating during the chaotic moments of the shooting, because their radios were not functioning properly inside Building 197. 

Federal firefighters and Navy police officers say they were given radios that initially worked properly, but as they went deeper into the building in pursuit of the gunman, they could no longer communicate with each other or to anyone outside the building. The radios were reportedly not powerful enough to reach transmitters outside the building. Others say they could hear the communications on their own radios, but could not respond in kind, forcing them to use their cellphones to talk to people on the outside.

Radios belonging to the D.C fire department appeared to work much better, but they could not communicate with rescuers belong to other units, so federal officers had to turn to cellphones or runners to enable communications. Even if the Navy radios had been working, they would not have been compatible with those used by the officers of the Metropolitan Police Department.

Even worse, some of the Navy employees say this was a known issue well before the shooting, but little was done to correct it. A union official for the Naval Police said there have been problems in the past with radios that have faulty batteries or cannot receive signals deep inside buildings. Similar complaints have been made in previous large scale emergencies involving multiple agencies, dating all the way back to the September 11 attacks in 2001.

This news also comes after earlier reports that a tactical response unit was ordered to stand down during the shooting, and that base security was not up to snuff, allowing easy access for the shooter and his weapons. No matter what happens next, it's clear that the coming investigations into this incident will not just be about the shooter and his motives, but about how these breakdowns may have failed those caught in the disaster.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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