RAY BROOK - The state Department of Environmental Conservation's central dispatch center in Albany was unable to communicate with forest rangers and other field staff while they were responding to flash flooding in Warren County Saturday.
Albany spokeswoman Lori Severino said a power surge Saturday afternoon knocked out the radio at the Warrensburg office, but she downplayed its affect on rescue operations.
"This is a common occurrence in the Adirondack region this time of year," Severino wrote in an email to the Enterprise. "The outage had a minor effect on certain capabilities of both dispatch centers. Our backup protocol was implemented and coverage was maintained throughout the weekend using our back up systems."
Flash flooding after intense rains washed out roads, bridges and culverts in the Thurman area, according to media reports. The damage left some residents stranded and cut off from main roads.
After the Warrensburg radio was knocked out, DEC used its Ray Brook office to perform dispatching operations. Only one dispatcher was working at the time and couldn't handle all the calls, so DEC called in forest rangers and environmental conservation officers to assist the dispatcher.
"The loss of a few towers during the power outage in Region 5 is something the Department had planned for, and it was a good test of the back up protocol in place," Severino wrote. "No one was unable to contact a DEC dispatch location throughout the flooding operations in any areas where we normally have radio communications."
Albany's radio communication with the Warrensburg office were knocked out because it relies on an Internet-based system, a DEC employee told the Enterprise on condition of anonymity since (s)he wasn't authorized to speak on the matter.
Severino and DEC spokesman Dave Winchell did not return phone calls by the Enterprise Tuesday, so no further details are available. The DEC did not answer a request to allow dispatchers and forest rangers to comment on the situation.
The Enterprise also heard emergency radio reports of what appeared to be a forest ranger having a difficult time trying to contact Albany via radio on Sunday evening on a search and rescue on Mount Marcy. DEC would not comment on whether the forest ranger had difficulties with radio communications with Albany but did say the hikers returned safely from their trip.
Saturday's failed radio communications came on the same day that the Enterprise published an in-depth report that cited numerous DEC employees in Ray Brook criticizing Albany's central dispatching system, including Capt. John Streiff, who oversees forest rangers in Region 5. Their comments were contained in internal emails obtained by the Enterprise. The employees criticized the system for putting them and the public at risk because it has consistently failed since it because the main dispatching hub for the Adirondacks in February.
"I understand (central dispatch) is here to stay, but in light of the past three three months, I cannot see how (central dispatch) can handle the entire state," Streiff wrote DEC leaders in Albany on May 11. "I hope you will agree and work with me to keep both (central dispatch) and (Ray Brook) working together for our Agency and our safety."