by Alan Henney (

Regardless of whether you consider them wanna-be news people, crude forms of news media, or the best thing since sliced bread, the pager incident notification services have changed the way news rooms and news junkies hear about spot news.

New England Fire News Network was among the first, if not the first, of such notification services.  It started in 1988 covering parts of the northeast and still does today.  It was quickly followed by an explosion of similar paging services across the country.

The process is relatively simple:  Most of the services have volunteer dispatchers, reporters, tipsters, whoever, often fire fighters, scanner buffs or people with other similar interests.  They monitor scanners or keep their ears open while on the job, on the road or at the firehouse.  Once news happens, someone along the news chain types an often terse news bulletin into a PC or paging terminal and sends it into the paging system.  Moments later the message reaches customers' alphanumeric pagers.  Topics of such messages typically range from fires and accidents to shootings and stabbings.

Those supplying the news on a regular basis are normally compensated with some degree of free service or other incentives.  And everyone needs an extra ear to help break that next story.  So if you've been bitten by the spot news bug, inquire about joining one of the services listed here.

The five paging services listed in this article cover parts of Delaware, Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia.  All services listed exchange pages of significant incidents with other groups across the

country, who in turn, pass the news along to their customers - sometimes way ahead of the commercial news sources - sometimes not.  This typically ranges from second alarms to major news stories such as plane crashes and multiple shootings.

Most paging carriers offer other mainstream info services such as news, sports, weather and business.  So make certain to inquire about those too when getting a new alpha pager.

Prices listed below are rounded to the nearest dollar and do not include tax and other charges.  PageNet, for example, adds state sales tax, a 1.8 percent access tax and a carrier-imposed 8 percent surcharge "for network maintenance" to its accounts.  Also ask how many pages are included with your personal service since most carriers have imposed a limit and start charging when you run over.

It's important to note that prices for paging service vary depending upon the salesperson, contract and payment plan negotiated.  In many cases fire fighters, police officers and other professions qualify for discounts -- don't forget to ask!

Baltimore Metro Dispatch
Contact: 410-932-4876
Carrier/Dealer: PageNet (900 MHz), 410-902-8479
Price for pager: $140 (Advisor Gold)
Type of pager: Can use most any flex alpha pager
Service by itself: Not available
Service with personal numeric: Not available
Service with personal alpha: $12/month
Lease plans: $14-$15/month for Elite with maintenance plan.
Originates pages for Baltimore metro area.

BMD can be added for free to existing PageNet alpha pagers that are on the right frequency.  PageNet can also include MFN for about $2 more per month.

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Breaking News Network
Contact: 1-888-875-6100
Carrier: Aquis Communications (900 MHz)
Dealer: Sold direct
Pager Price: $80
Type of pager: Advisor (primarily)
Service by itself: $8/month
Service with personal numeric: $10/month
Service with personal alpha: $14/month
Lease plans: Available for large accounts
Originates pages for DE, MD, DC and No VA. Also has separate service covering NJ, east PA, south CT and much of NY.

Eastern Shore Fire Network
Contact: 1-888-744-8088
Website: N/A (e-mail:
Carrier/Dealer: Salisbury Comm (152 MHz), 410-749-4005 x107
Price for pager: $56-$155
Type of pager: Varies
Service by itself: Not Available
Service with personal numeric: $8.50/month
Service with personal alpha: $10.50/month
Lease plans: Available; three-year lease includes loaner pager with rates above.
Originates pages for the Delmarva peninsula.

Contact: 301-303-FIRE
Website: N/A
Carrier: Pagenet (900 MHz)
Dealer: Pennsel Comm, 1-888-806-4303
Price for pager: $50-$200
Type of pager: Various
Service by itself: Not available
Service with personal numeric: $13/month
Service with personal alpha: $17-$20/month
Lease plans:  Not available
Originates pages for DE, MD, DC and No Va.

Prices include a mandatory $2/month insurance plan.  FireCom still provides service on MobileComm as well, but new accounts are going through Pennsel Communications and PageNet.

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number.  9-Whiskey-51 is the District  5 (Germantown) coordinator.  9-Whiskey-80 is technically the coordinator of the coordinators, with countywide responsibility.

Theoretically the decentralized Whiskey units are supposed to stay in their own districts and work directly with the patrol units.  Because many shift supervisors prefer not to have their beat officers tied up on drinking parties for extended periods of time, the coordinators often end up working together.  When they work together, such as during a party surveillance, they generally use police channel 7 (495.3875) simplex to talk to each other.

Since underage drinking is a civil (versus criminal) violation, the best the police can do is ask the homeowner or host of the party for permission to come inside.  If the answer is "no," all police can do is sit and wait for kids to leave and attempt to stop them for traffic or other violations.

At one Germantown party, the host refused permission and police could only warn him of his liability if someone left after drinking and was involved in an accident.  If police receive permission to enter, they card everyone, all under-age persons are given a portable Breathalyzer test and their scores are often written on the backs of their hands.  Those who are not "0.0" receive tickets and parental notification.  Depending on the cooperation from the host, he/she might get a ticket for "furnishing."

In one case, because the homeowners called police when high schoolers crashed their daughter's graduation party, the police did not issue the homeowners a summons.  At another home, the host said just two officers could enter the basement to card people.  The other officers stood outside and watched people flock upstairs as police entered the outside basement door.  Because of the limited permission needed to enter and the civil nature of the violation, police could not legally search the rest of the house, so the underage drinkers just stayed upstairs until police left.


by Ralph Johnson (

I used my amateur radio and scanner to assist in the rescue of a woman who was injured after she fell while rock climbing at Carderock, Md.  Her only apparent injuries, fortunately, were possible broken ankles and some lacerations and contusions from scraping the rock.

My girlfriend and I were in the parking lot talking when another woman came up stating a climber had been injured in an accident.  She tried to use her cellular phone to call the Park Police, but could not make the call because of the poor location.  I tried to use my 2-meter radio with 30 watts to make an auto-patch call through the 146.955 MHz repeater, but experienced the same problem in that I couldn't get enough signal out to trip the auto-patch. 

Instead, I made a general call for anybody to answer me and make a relay call.  Another amateur answered and called the Park Police.  There was initial confusion because the Park Police were already on another incident at Old Anglers Inn and thought we were repeating that call.  After we got that straightened out, police and rescue personnel from Cabin John Volunteer Fire Department, the Park Service, Montgomery County EMS, and Navy fire department at the David Taylor Basin responded to the scene within a few minutes.  The medical personnel quickly stabilized the patient and transported her to an ambulance for treatment.

This gave me an opportunity to check my frequency list for Montgomery County so I had handy my Radio Shack frequency counter as I stood by the rescue personnel.  I managed to get one frequency, 154.83, the input to the river repeater, 153.95.  I entered the frequency into my scanner and was able to follow what the medics were discussing about how to transport the injured woman.  I missed confirming which frequency the Park Ranger used.  The incident commander used the on-scene frequency, 153.95 (simplex), to talk with Montgomery County dispatchers.

Although it was unfortunate somebody was injured in the accident, such incidents offer good opportunities to confirm and find new frequencies to monitor.

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talkgroups simulcast over two of the three zones for improved coverage along county borders.

Although it is entirely a digital system, all is not lost.  State police simulcasts of each county's "command and control" talkgroup continue, and promise to for the "foreseeable" future.  DSP troops in Sussex County are on 154.755, Kent County is on 154.935 and New Castle County is 154.665.  Computer checks are also simulcast on 155.475 in Sussex County.

Coastal police departments in Lewes (159.09), Rehoboth Beach (154.74/154.875), Dewey Beach (155.01) and Bethany Beach (151.22) continue to use their respective frequencies.  Of the resort police departments, Fenwick Island, South Bethany, Dewey Beach and Lewes make the most use of the trunked system.

Rehoboth Beach fire continues to use 453.25 for its primary operations.  Sussex County fire fighters expressed concern that they would lose their ability to hear what's going on since normally only line officers receive take-home trunked radios.  So several departments have erected repeater systems that simulcast Sussex County's five fire and three EMS talkgroups.  The Rehoboth Beach simulcast is on 453.65 (DCS 023) and the Indian River is on 453.225 (DCS 114).  Indian River also uses its repeater with a DCS of 205 as a tac channel.

These repeaters provide a revealing insight as to what the digital audio sounds like and why critics are so disgruntled with it.  Several upstate fire departments also converted their low band cross-band repeaters into trunked system simulcasts as well.

Sussex County supposedly plans to fund and provide its own simulcasts for the volunteers similar to the systems erected by Rehoboth Beach and Indian River.  The county is also considering dropping 33.78 as the alerting frequency and moving it to 453 MHz.  The county has licenses pending for more than 20 UHF channels.  The goal, it appears, is for the county to license each fire station with an alerting and simulcast channel.

The frequencies listed on the pending licenses are 453.1, 453.125, 453.15, 453.225, 453.25, 453.35, 453.375, 453.425, 453.45, 453.475, 453.5, 453.55,

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JOINT PUBLIC SAFETY INTEROPERABILITY CHANNEL PLAN.  The Commerce Department has announced plans to designate 40 federal frequencies for use by federal, state and local law enforcement and incident response entities to improve their communications during emergencies and help them to better respond to threats to public safety.  According to an NTIA press release, The plan is the first step toward ensuring that sufficient radio spectrum is available when and where an emergency or public safety need may arise.

The frequencies, under the control of the federal government, are to be used for intermittent law enforcement and incident response requirements during emergencies relating to public safety.  For more information about the new interoperability plan contact William Speights at 202-482-1726 or check NTIA's Public Safety Home Page at

D.C. LOSES VOICE ON CELLPHONE ANTENNAS.  District leaders are criticizing a provision in the D.C. budget passed by the Senate that orders the National Park Service to allow the erection of two cellular telephone towers in Rock Creek Park, says the July 5 Washington Post.  The National Capital Planning Commission voted to table for the second time a decision on the towers.  A majority of the commissioners on the regional advisory panel opposed the towers.  Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), however, put an amendment into the $4.7 billion D.C. budget bill to give the Park Service 90 days to approve the project, initiated by Bell Atlantic Mobile.

The amendment says the Park Service "may consider, but shall not be bound by, any decision or recommendation" of the planning commission.  The commission supposedly tabled the decision because it wanted to explore alternative technologies to the towers.  Bell Atlantic Mobile says the towers passed an environmental-impact study and would be located on two sites - near a tennis center on 16th Street and in a park maintenance lot - that are not pristine natural areas.  A new 100-foot pole would replace an existing 38-foot light pole at the tennis center, according to planning commission documents, and a 130-foot pole would be installed in the maintenance lot.

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In his Senate speech, Daschle stressed the safety aspect of the debate and cited the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which requires that federal property be made available to services for wireless communication, if they are essential and environmentally sound.  Mayor Anthony Williams, Council Chair Linda Cropp, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton have each expressed reservations about the proposal.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE GET MDT FUNDS.  The County Council has approved a $2.1 million emergency appropriation to continue funding the planning and design of a mobile data system.  The system, reports the July 7 Gazette, will allow police officers and firefighters to obtain information such as criminal backgrounds, driving records and updated maps.  Officers will be able to write and submit reports while they are on patrol instead of having to return to district police stations to complete the work.  The system is being designed by county and contract staff.  County police expect to purchase 200 mobile computers at a cost of more than $15 million, according to estimates from two years ago.  The first 150 computers will end up in Germantown district police vehicles.  The other 50 computers will go to special assignment teams, the repeat offenders and canine units.

SUBURBS PRESS FOR RELIABLE RADIO SYSTEMS.  "Overburdened police and fire radio systems are often failing in many fast-growing area suburbs," warns the July 3 Washington Post, "but efforts to improve the situation have stalled because of bureaucratic disputes and other radio problems far from Washington."  Interference among jurisdictions has been causing conflicts that have yet to be sorted out.  Until then, the FCC says it cannot dole out the 866-869 MHz frequencies sought by some Washington suburbs for public safety radio systems.

Loudoun, Fauquier, St. Mary's and Charles counties, police and firefighters using outdated equipment sometimes cannot communicate in emergencies.  Local officials and Virginia Senator Charles S. Robb have pressed the FCC to resolve the issues quickly.  But FCC officials so far have declined to intervene in the four-year-long disputes.  Emergency officials in Loudoun, the region's fastest-growing county, said their antiquated system is posing an increasing risk as the population and

number of emergency calls skyrocket.  They have been asking for new frequencies since 1997.

FCC officials say they cannot approve new requests for more reliable high-frequency [866-869 MHz] systems in the Washington area as long as the problems with Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania persist.  Otherwise, they argue, newly issued frequencies could overlap and cause even more interference.  The problem, says an FCC representative, lies with the regional committees who are supposed to review the use of public safety frequencies and prevent the kind of interference that is happening across the three state lines.

HYPING NDW'S EDACS VHF TRUNKED SYSTEM.  "In order to provide a reliable communications network in its area of responsibility (AOR), which includes the National Capital Region, five counties of Northern Va., and Maryland, the Naval District Washington (NDW) selected Ericsson's VHF trunking technology," brags a company press release.

NDW is responsible for public safety operations at Navy facilities as well as other missions assigned to the Navy within its AOR.  As the sub-regional planning agent for disaster preparedness within its assigned AOR, NDW's communications network must provide interoperable communications among Navy/Marine forces, other DOD organizations, federal agencies, and local authorities.

Ericsson said the existing MASTR III conventional equipment at the Washington Navy Yard could be upgraded to support digital trunked operations and could be expanded to support multisite operations with seamless interoperability to support communications throughout the AOR.  Working with Ericsson and Superior Communications, Inc, the local Ericsson manufacturer representative from Rockville, NDW built out its current equipment to a multisite, interoperable VHF trunked radio system.

In May of last year NDW began communicating over a three-channel VHF trunked system at Bolling Air Force Base, its first site.  This site supposedly provides in-building coverage for the Washington Navy Yard.  It also purportedly provides portable coverage for the metropolitan Washington area.  The NDW system was expanded in December with a five-channel EDACS

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system at Bethesda Naval Hospital for better coverage to the greater Washington, DC, area, and a fourth channel was added to the Washington Navy Yard system.

The third NDW site is scheduled to be installed later this year at the Naval Academy.  The addition of this site will allow for wide-area regional coverage throughout the district's AOR.  The two existing sites serve 200 users.  Each site is interconnected to an integrated multisite console and controller (IMC).  This provides wide-area coverage, automatically switching between sites as users travel around NDW's AOR.  Also interfaced to the IMC is a C3 Maestro CRT Dispatch Console, conventional mutual aid interface, logging recorder, Siemens 9-1-1 telephone system and Intergraph's
computer aided dispatch (CAD) and automatic vehicle locator (AVL) systems.

Each base within the NDW system will eventually have a site with its own community of users who will operate independently.  However, mutual aid channels tied to the local police and fire systems by a common network interface (CNI) will supposedly provide the interoperability that was not available in the old system.  NDW's future plans include mobile data applications, such as mapping, global positioning satellite (GPS) technology, and further advancements in computer aided dispatching.

Although the press release suggests the system is digital, right now, at least, it's analog and only the Navy Yard portion is regularly active.  Refer to the last CHM for the NDW frequencies.  We could use some assistance finding the remaining frequencies, such as Bethesda and the Naval Academy when (if) they become active.

DELAWARE'S DIGITAL TRUNKED SYSTEM.  Taxpayers in Delaware could be asked to provide another $7.5 million and support the construction of up to six more radio towers to bring the state's 800 MHz system up to par.  The June 13 Delaware State News reported that the costs for the system so far have been more than $50 million and emergency workers complain the system is no closer to being corrected than it was earlier this year.

The dispute over whether Motorola delivered what it promised is under debate.  The bottom line, the article states, is that emergency services personnel in some areas of the state have poor or non-

existent radio communication.  Those areas include Hartly, Marydel, Claymont, and along the Delaware coast, including Lewes and Rehoboth.  In-building coverage also isn't as was expected in some areas.  And the system is running about a 1 to 2 second delay similar to other digital trunked systems.

New Castle County emergency officials complained that the system does not work properly and is only slightly better than what was already in place.  Some system shortfalls have been blamed on the placement of antenna towers.  Other problems have been blamed on the waves in the Delaware River and Bay, or the absence of tall buildings along the beaches, which allows the signals to shoot out over the ocean and disappear!

The director of the state's telecommunications technology office stated that testing methods used to check the radio system are not adequate, maps used to locate towers have not been kept current and the system does not meet the specifications set forth in memorandums of understanding about its capabilities.

PHILLY'S PROPOSED DIGITAL TRUNKED SYSTEM.  An article in the June 24 Philadelphia Citypaper examined Philadelphia's proposed $51 million 30-channel digital trunked system and problems experienced by other jurisdictions with similar systems.  The fear expressed in the article is that city officials will control the information the public and media may monitor, and there's some uncertainty that the system will work as promised.

There is "no general right of the news media or others to monitor police and fire radio communications," wrote the city solicitor in a June 2 memo.  The city, the memo continues, is "free to implement a radio communications network that encrypts and otherwise prevents or restricts" news media and other citizens from monitoring the airwaves.  "...because radio transmissions under the 800 MHz system will not be readily accessible to the public, the City has no legal obligation to make these transmissions available...  It appears that the City is free to implement a radio communications system that encrypts and otherwise prevents or restricts news media, citizens, and others from monitoring police and fire department communications."

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