Friday, September 18, 2009

Hoaxes and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

This morning (Friday, 18 September 2009) I was reading the article on Bay News 9's web site about the overnight closure of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to someone making a bomb hoax on a CB radio. When I was reading the article I saw a link to more info on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and - to my surprise - my page on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at the site. A special thank you goes out to Bay News 9 for the link to my site!

Now let me talk to you about a very serious subject: Bomb hoaxes and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Before I go on further, let me tell you that making false reports about destructive devices on public property in the State of Florida is not only morally wrong, it is illegal and a second degree felony pursuant to Section 790.164 of the Florida Statutes. Besides, the court can require the perpetrator to reimburse the law enforcement agency or agencies that were involved in investigating a false report so made.

Back before the new Sunshine Skyway opened in 1987, the old Sunshine Skyway has had its share of bomb hoaxes, especially from after the 9 May 1980 incident to the day the new Sunshine Skyway opened in 1987. For a while there were a rash of bomb hoaxes; the perpetrators (this was back in the older days before telephone tracing equipment got more sophisticated) would telephone the Sunshine Skyway toll facility rather than law enforcement or 911 in the hopes of evading detection and not being caught. According to several St. Petersburg Times articles after the hoax calls were getting out of control to the point that telephone tracing equipment was installed to track callers. Soon after the tracing equipment was installed it proved helpful in tracking down and arresting a teenager who called in a false bomb hoax report regarding the Sunshine Skyway.

After all, if you have the occasion to call your local police department or 911 your call is not only traced it is also recorded. If you happen to live in Verizon territory where Verizon is your local telephone provider you have an option to trace a telephone call for a per use charge; the trace records are only released to a law enforcement agency and is very helpful if you are receiving harassing or threatening telephone calls.

Over the past 20 years or so telephone tracing equipment has gotten technologically advanced. Most of us have a feature that acts as a "peephole" for your telephone and that is called Caller ID. Some telephone providers have gone a step further; you can listen to your voicemails and find out who called you all on your computer.

In the recent bomb hoax scare that closed the Sunshine Skyway, the perpetrator did not use a telephone according to Bay News 9. Instead, the caller used an older form of chat room technology long before there was the Internet, and that is CB Radio. Telephone calls are easy to trace, while CB Radio transmissions are believed to be harder to trace. One way to find out where a radio transmission is coming from is to use a device called a direction finder; this is used by the FCC to aid them in locating unlicensed radio stations. On the flip side of the coin, telephone conversations are private in general while radio transmissions can be heard by anyone with the right equipment.

Anytime the Sunshine Skyway is closed, especially in both directions - whether it may be a suicidal person or a bomb hoax - it creates an economic hardship for everyone in the Tampa Bay area as those who live in St. Petersburg and want to go to Bradenton or Sarasota and vice versa must make the 50+ mile detour across the Gandy or Howard Frankland bridges into Tampa and follow Interstate 75 to their destination should the Sunshine Skyway be closed. Also remember too that while the Sunshine Skyway bridge is principally under the law enforcement jurisdiction of the Florida Highway Patrol as the Sunshine Skyway is part of Interstate 275, there are not two but three counties the Sunshine Skyway is a part of: Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee.

Now you are asking yourself, why Hillsborough County? That's a very good question! The center high rise section of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is in Hillsborough County, a vestige of how Hillsborough County extended to the gulf beaches before Pinellas County was created in 1912.

Now if a high profile incident involves the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the Florida Highway Patrol gets involved as the lead law enforcement agency, as well as the sheriff's offices of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties, and even the St. Petersburg Police Department as well. And we can't forget to mention a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: The United States Coast Guard. Now talk about a multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional nightmare if the Sunshine Skyway had to be closed for any reason; if it takes place during the day (and especially during the morning or afternoon commute) it would be a bigger nightmare.

That means whoever makes a report of a bomb hoax involving the Sunshine Skyway will not only face a felony conviction (and absolutely no withhold of adjudication per Section 790.164 of the Florida Statutes) including fines and time in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections in a state correctional institution, the court can order the perpetrator to make restitution for the trouble caused as a result of the false report.

Hopefully law enforcement will catch whoever committed this act and the person(s) who committed this act will face severe consequences. As it was part of the theme of a TV show in the 1970's, "if you can't pay the time don't do the crime".

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