Police scanner streams overloaded by interest in Dorner standoff

A tense scene is still unfolding as the San Bernardino Police continue to surround a now burned-out house where manhunt suspect Christopher Dorner is believed to be holed up as he faces down a stand-off with police.

News comes at the speed of live these days and even live television isn’t good enough for stories like this one unfolding in real time. Twitter is a reliable place to find updates and people’s thoughts on breaking news, but arguably one of the best public resources for finding legitimate information in the moment are radio scanner streams. Radioreference.com and various smartphone apps help people easily access over-the-air communications between police, firefighters, pilots, truckers, and dispatchers that they communicate with.

Perhaps it was the terrible, sensational, and uninformative news coverage combined with the shocking escalation of the situation that garnered the public’s interest in Dorner’s story, but as of writing this more than 45,000 users have been attempting to access a variety of San Bernardino radio scanner feeds, bringing down Radioreference.com with them. Many apps and other services which rely on these public feeds are also reporting outages. The streams themselves are not actually offline, but people’s ability to access and listen in on these feeds has been compromised. As someone who routinely tunes in to listen to radio scanner feeds, it’s unsettling to imagine such an important resource for information could suddenly be shut off.

Though online traffic may have overloaded the websites hosting these feeds, it’s likely there was coordination between these websites and city of San Bernardino to disable access out of fear for the safety of officers on the ground. Despite owning a Yaesu transceiver myself (radio is important to me!), I would still be unable to receive SBPD frequencies based on my lack of proximity to the scene. News coverage might be a better filter for this information for some (the amount of codes and radio jargon used during these conversations makes it difficult to understand exactly what’s happening), but having the ability to listen in on those engaged in a live situation is incredibly helpful in filling in information gaps that the news may present (either intentionally or unintentionally).

With all the public interest a case such as Dorner’s has generated it’s no surprise some disinformation may be present on the news. It’s gotten to a point where even the SBPD are instructing citizens and news organizations to cease Twittering about the unfolding situation. Questions still remain about news reports of the SBPD’s activities verses what has been said over their own radios.

Though the news reported tear gas has been fired into the suspect’s cabin, radio chatter indicates that authorization to “use a burner” on the house was given. I find it hard to believe that tear gas would ignite and start a fire in a building in the fashion it did tonight, though I’m sure we will see (and hopefully hear) what develops as in this insane situation continues.