SF Zoo warning system faulty

December 24, 2008 11:29:00 AM PST
ABC7 learned of another safety issue at the San Francisco Zoo. It involves equipment brought in after last year's tiger attack.

Shortly after the tiger attack on Christmas Day of last year, the San Francisco Zoo purchased a wireless public address system to notify visitors in case of another mishap, but the AlertWave system has been plagued with problems.

ABC7 obtained some pictures of the system at the zoo. The products maker, Visiplex, acknowledges the battery for the loud speaker does not hold the charge delivered by a solar panel -- so the speaker loses power after sundown. It was dark when the tiger attack took place around 5:30 p.m. Visiplex says the zoo recently identified the problem after nearly a year in place.

"We're going to have bumps along the way, sounds like the zoos experiencing a bump from the system that was purchased from the manufacturer, but I have confidence that they'll get there," said Mike Sullivan, the San Francisco Park and Recreation Commissioner.

Fresno State and CSU Monterey have the same system and the same problem. Visiplex says it's in the process of correcting it, but a spokesperson for the zoo says this is only one part of a larger security plan.

Lora LaMarca, the director of marketing for the zoo told ABC7: "The zoo has a multi-pronged approach that also includes a 'code red' phone alert." The phone alert informs 30 zoo personnel simultaneously, and it has radio communication among zoo personnel.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for the family of Carlos Sousa Jr., who was killed by the loose tiger last year, said he expects no less than $3 million in compensation.

"We're being very reasonable and we will be in our approach to settle this," said Michael Cardoza, the Sousa Family Attorney.

And with a failing P.A. system, ABC7 Legal Analyst Dean Johnson says the zoo is more vulnerable if something like this happens again.

"If the zoo actually knows that it has a problem with its safety system and doesn't do anything about it, we're going even beyond what we normally think of as negligence liability or strict liability," said Johnson.

Johnson says a malfunctioning P.A. system would open the zoo up to punitive damages as well.


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