New system could shut-out scanner listeners
by Alan Henney (alan@henney.com)

After months of delays, the cut-over to a digital 800 MHz trunked radio system for the District's fire and EMS workers may be completed by year's end, says Wendell Giggy of D.C. Fire/EMS communications.     D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few mandated December 15 as the switch-over date.  Until a digital scanning radio is available, scanner listeners will be unable to monitor the new system.

Scanner listeners will continue to hear dispatches on 154.19, but Giggy noted that as of this writing the department has no plans to simulcast other talkgroups onto the VHF channels or the Internet from the digital system.  In addition, he says no plans have been made for public/media access to monitor the system. 

The city's Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and some fire department staff have been using the system already for more than a year.  EMA and fire/EMS each procured separate eight-channel trunked systems.  They now operate as a single system with two partitions.  EMA remains on its eight channels and fire/EMS will normally use its own eight 852 MHz channels but may expand into the EMA allocations if necessary, but not the other way around.  EMA is in the process of assisting other city agencies, such as housing, corrections, schools and human services, in moving to the EMA portion of the trunked system.

The 800 MHz system will also support a DEK (direct-entry keypad) status messaging system for the fire/EMS apparatus.  The DEK status messaging system will reduce voice traffic since fire/EMS personnel can simply press a button to notify communications when they arrive on scene, are available, responding, etc.  Hospital and firehouse alerting systems will also run through the trunked system.  Look for the new white fiberglass antennas about a foot tall on each firehouse.

The hub of the trunked system is the new communications center on McMillan Drive NW which is adjacent to the existing fire/EMS dispatch facility.  It was supposed to have been a consolidated facility where the city's various emergency call centers were to be located.  But Giggy says the city is considering building even a larger facility at an undetermined location.  That facility would ideally house the police and fire/EMS call-takers and dispatchers along with call centers for other city agencies such as public works, EMA and perhaps human services.

The police may join the existing center in the next year, wait for the new proposed facility to be built, or remain on Indiana Avenue.  As far as radios, the police say the department would like to upgrade its existing 460 MHz system and not move to the fire/EMS/EMA trunked system.  MPD dispatchers, however, may have the ability to patch into selected talkgroups as required.

A new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system is being installed by the Intergraph Corporation for fire/EMS dispatchers and call-takers.  It's a Windows NT-based system that replaces the department's 11-year-old CAD system which runs off a McDonnell Douglas mainframe.  The new CAD system is capable of sending dispatch messages to alphanumeric pagers -- similar to what Baltimore and Montgomery County fire departments already do.  But Giggy said no decision has been made whether to implement this feature or not.

The fire/EMS/EMA system has transmit sites at the Capitol View Plaza Senior Center, Saint Elizabeth's Hospital, Georgetown University Medical Center, the 4th District MPD police station, and a fifth site at fire communications where the controller is located.  The department, Giggy stated, is working with Metro on perfecting the system used in the subway tunnels.

A fire department official told the
Washington Times that Nextel's signals interfere with the trunked system's signal and hamper efforts to complete the radio link for use in the subway tunnels.  Metro's safety chief was quoted as

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saying that the underground system is working but he didn't see the above-ground portion completed till May 2001 while these issues are being resolved.

The EMA portion transmits on 855.2125, 855.2375, 855.4625, 856.9875, 857.9875, 858.9875, 859.9875 and 860.9875.  The fire/EMS portion transmits on 852.6125, 852.6375, 852.6625, 852.6875, 852.7125, 852.7375, 852.7625 and 852.7875.  The system will support both analog and digital, but fire/EMS talkgroups are all digital.

A single analog simplex "talkaround" channel will allow communication between units operating outside of the trunked system's range -- such as in basements, tunnels or other sub-terrain locations, or those that travel beyond the area.

The current plans have fire/EMS radios programmed with 11 zones.  The first five zones will be for D.C. fire/EMS, followed by the 800 MHz national and COG channels, then zones for Virginia jurisdictions, Arlington, Alexandria, MWAA (airports) and two for Fairfax County.  The Virginia zones will be grouped and numbered in the same sequence as they will appear in radios belonging to northern Virginia fire departments.  The northern Virginia departments have agreed upon this standardized zone and talkgroup plan.

Talkgroups for Fairfax County fire/EMS, for example, will always be Virginia zone 4 regardless of the participating jurisdiction's radio; this also corresponds to the first digit of the three-digit apparatus designations now in use by northern Virginia fire departments.  D.C. fire/EMS has been dubbed "zone 0" (zone zero).

The District will have about 55 digital fire/EMS talkgroups.  A bi-directional patch will relay messages between 154.19 and the trunked system's fire/EMS dispatch talkgroup.  Once dispatched, units will switch to a working talkgroup (no longer will initial size-ups, layout instructions, returns and requests for additional apparatus be given on the dispatch channel).

The department's training guide states that the "main" talkgroup will be used for one/two-unit responses to fire calls.  "Main" will also be used to relay administrative messages to fire communications, such as out of service for fuel, or out of the area to battalion

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will come down, and the old conventional police channel will be added into the trunked system.

Fire/EMS channels 1 through 6 will remain patched with trunked talkgroups 4A through 4F for a few months until radio installation in apparatus is complete.  Fire/EMS units available for service will continue to monitor the dispatch channel (talkgroup 4A) for calls.  But once a unit is dispatched, it will always be moved to a talkgroup for incident communication.

The response talkgroup (talkgroup 4B) is patched with 460.6 and will be used for responses to medical calls, odors, alarm bells, etc.  Calls where a battalion chief is dispatched will be assigned to one of several "incident" talkgroups.  Once the cut-over is complete, the fire/EMS talkgroups may be assigned without regard to geographical location of the call -- with the exception of "Incident 11" which will be used along the Alexandria city line.

Zone 9 in the Fairfax radios will have 15 talkgroups for use with hospitals.  No longer will medical facilities communicate directly with or monitor units on a fireground channel.  A hospital common "trauma" talkgroup will allow multiple receiving hospitals to coordinate with EMS units.

The airports authority and Alexandria fire departments already have digital radios with Fairfax County talkgroups programmed.  Arlington County will continue to use analog talkgroups on its system that are linked with Fairfax County until Arlington County upgrades to digital radios.  Mutual aid with Prince William County will be accomplished by patching a trunked system talkgroup with a VHF FMARS channel.

The system ultimately will consist of 20 channels, including the existing eight police channels (853.1875, 853.3375, 853.4875, 853.6375, 853.7875, 853.9625, 854.1375 and 854.2875).  The designated control channels are 857.2625, 858.2625, 859.2625 and 860.2625.  The remaining eight channels are:  852.9625, 853.4625, 853.9125, 854.2625, 854.4625, 855.9625, 855.9875 and 856.2625

The system supports analog talkgroups as well.  TrunkTracker ID 00176 is an analog simulcast of the fire/EMS dispatch (460.575).  But it may not be permanent.  00048 is an analog talkgroup used by the trunked system project team.  ID 00144 is an analog simulcast of the Fairfax Hospital talkgroup.

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461.9500 r  [ 071 ] Stadium Staff
462.8125 s  [ 205 ] Parking
463.2375 s  [ 054 ]
463.3125 s  [ 172 ] Redskins QB Headset
      (voice inversion)
463.8000 r  [ 072 ] Ushers/Elevator Towers
463.9250 r  [ 503 ]
463.9500 r  [        ]
464.1000 r  [ 114 ] Ushers/Housekeeping/VIP
464.8000 r  [ 065 ] Ch. 1 Snyder/Stadium
464.8500 r  [ 054 ] Ch. 4 Security
464.9000 r  [        ]
462.9125 r  [ 346 ] Electricians
464.9500   [ 413 ] Lighting

On 464.8 you could possibly hear Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder or one of his staff provide instruction to stadium workers.  Security guards patrol the stadium at all times and operate on 464.85.  During football games, however, county police officers patrol inside and outside the stadium.  Officers outside communicate with the command post on channel 6 (494.8875), while officers assigned to the interior use channel 8 (494.7375).  Also keep an ear on channel 7 (494.9375) and the 500 MHz surveillance channels (try 500.05, 500.15, 500.25 as well as searching between 500.0 and 501.0 MHz).

Fire and EMS units normally stay on channel 4/6 (495.0625).  But also try channel 3/5 (494.7875).  Selected fire department radios have their own unlicensed frequencies, these are channels 8-B through 12-B:  500.1, 500.2, 500.3, 500.4 and 500.5.

Last September the National Football League licensed these eight frequencies at each NFL stadium for 2 watts of power: 451.6625, 451.7125, 452.0375, 452.1125, 452.3625, 452.4625, 452.6625 and 453.0125.  The license (call sign WPPA283) for these frequencies is useful because it provides the city, county and coordinates for each of the league's stadiums.

Getting to the stadium and parking can be a challenge.  Keep an ear on MSP 39.3, SHA (47.32, 47.2), Metro Transit (161.385, 496.5875, 496.6125), and Metro Traffic Control (455.9125).

The stadium's command center resembles a miniature EOC.  The county police and fire departments each have a console and share a direct line to the county's

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Existing towers that will not require height modifications are planned for use in Cooksville, at the Timbers of Troy golf course in Elkridge, and on Penn Shop Road at Route 97.  Two, new, self-supporting towers will also be necessary.  Plans call for one to be located at the county's water reclamation plant in Savage near U.S. 1, and a second at the government office complex in Ellicott City, where the computer "brain" will reside which is connected by wire to the county's 9-1-1 center.  A ninth site may use sit atop an office building in west Columbia. 

Motorola has received approval to proceed with the county's second purchase order.  The tentative project schedule calls for a factory demo of the county's system at Motorola's Schaumburg, Ill., plant in June 2001.  The system would be installed starting in September 2001.  Coverage testing and user training would begin in April and continue through September 2002.  Installation of mobile radios would run from July 2002 through February 2003.  Beneficial use of the system in slatted for March 2003 with final acceptance in May 2003.

The system will have analog capability.  Radios planned for use by fire/EMS workers are the Motorola XTS3000-R (ruggedized firefighter version) and Astro Spectras for mobile use.  Alerting will continue on the existing fire radios and pagers but will simulcast onto the trunked system.  Cost estimates are approximately $27 million.

These 10 channels were originally licensed to the D.C. government: 856.2375, 856.7375, 857.2375, 857.7375, 858.2375, 858.7375, 859.2375, 859.7375, 860.2375 and 860.7375.  Howard County contested the District's license because they were inactive.  The District compromised and split its 18 channels and gave these 10 to Howard County. 

Because of coordination difficulties, Howard County had trouble re-licensing the same channels farther northeast of Washington, D.C.  To be on the safe side, Howard County also reserved these 866-869 MHz channels.  They may change as coordination efforts continue: 866.0375, 866.0625, 866.3875, 866.5375, 866.575, 866.6875, 866.7625, 866.9625, 866.9875, 867.1125, 867.6375, 867.8, 868.0375 and 868.0625.

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In defense of the consultant, one of the county's supervisors stated the consultant was looking at a conventional 150 MHz system that would evolve into a 150 MHz trunked system in two years, and then after another two years, a trunked and simulcast system.  But to write an RFP for a trunked and simulcast 150 MHz system, CTA had supposedly quoted a price of $89,000 -- about $30,000 more than what CTA is billing the county for the 800 MHz system RFP.

Frequencies tentatively assigned to Fauquier County for the 800 MHz system are: 866.2, 866.225, 866.6375, 866.9, 866.9375, 867.2125, 867.4375, 867.625, 867.7, 867.85, 867.925, 868.05, 868.2, 868.2875, 868.45 and 868.7.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY SIGNS PUBLIC SAFETY 2000 CONTRACT.  Montgomery County signed a deal with TRW -- the main contractor for the county's proposed trunked and mobile data projects dubbed "Public Safety 2000."  The mobile data system component includes in-vehicle access to local, state and national law enforcement databases, as well as access to a new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, mapping and automated vehicle location (AVL), and a new automated records management system (RMS) featuring in-vehicle field reporting.  The county says the system is expected to be totally operational by July 2002.

Among the many capabilities of the system are the ability to access street directions to an incident, receive a record of previous emergency incidents at the address, and obtain a listing of any hazardous materials located on the premises.  Police officers can obtain information on criminal and motor vehicle databases such as the Maryland Interagency Law Enforcement System (MILES) and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS).  The new system will give personnel the ability to complete and file reports electronically in the field.

The county's trunked radio system is also included as a part of the Public Safety 2000 initiative.  According to the press release, "The current radio system is 30 years old, and it no longer meets the county's coverage or capacity requirements.  In recent years, problems with the aging radio system include channel overcrowding and 'dead spots' for police officers, deputies, firefighters and emergency medical personnel who must respond to emergency calls for service."

The September press release promises that the county's 800 MHz Motorola digital voice radio system will be fully operational within the next 18 months, offering municipalities and county agencies the option of working together when the situation arises, while maintaining autonomous dispatch operations.  The new system is also supposed to penetrate buildings better, enabling public safety personnel to communicate efficiently from inside large structures.

As part of the Public Safety 2000 project the county leased a 54,000 sq. ft. building to house the new Emergency Communications Center (ECC) for the police and fire dispatch centers.  This facility is on the corner of Quince Orchard Boulevard and Quince Orchard Road.  For more info see: http://www.co.mo.md.us/news/press/00-329.html

PUBLIC SAFETY RADIO WOES.  Many police and fire agencies across the country are using antiquated equipment developed in the 1950s and '60s that have failed in major emergencies, reports the Nov. 7 Los Angeles Times.  The problem is prompting departments to spend millions on high-tech radio networks, only to encounter many new and sometimes dangerous breakdowns.  The article cites several examples from across the country where high-tech public safety communications systems failed during critical moments.

The high-tech radio systems have a difficult time penetrating the increasing number of heavy steel and concrete buildings.  Local governments simply don't have the money to match the kind of coverage offered by wireless telephone providers.  As local governments migrated to higher, less crowded frequencies, the limitations with these frequencies have become apparent.  The biggest complaint is that the radios don't always work in many big structures and throughout entire patrol areas.

A consultant told the
Times that the older 400 MHz frequencies have a longer wavelength that travels better over hills and around buildings.  The 400 MHz band travels twice as far as the newer 800 MHz systems operating at the same power levels.  The new 800 MHz frequencies feature a shorter wavelength and deliver a clearer signal.  But some agencies complain the signal has difficulty penetrating buildings.  Public safety agencies are often forced to add expensive radio towers that higher frequencies require to match the same range of

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year.  A Nextel spokeswoman said the school will have to buy them if it wants to keep them.  The school's principal said he'd consider that "if there were sufficient resources....  It's certainly more useful than the hand-held walkie talkies schools have invested in for years.",

.  A new technology could take the guesswork out of bus riding.  Manufactured by California-based NextBus Information Systems, the Oct. 8 Washington Post says it uses satellites to track buses as they move in traffic and then transmits the information to an electronic sign at the bus stop that tells riders how long until the next two buses arrive.  Should a bus break down or be in an accident, that information can be flashed onto the NextBus screen at the affected bus stops.

Arlington is negotiating with NextBus and Metro to install the system as a pilot program along the Metrobus 38B line, which runs between the county and the District.  It would be an 18-month $65,000 pilot project and is waiting for Metro's approval.  NextBus first arrived on the East Coast as part of a three-month pilot program for bus lines that link the Delaware resort communities of Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach this past summer.  Officials there called it a success.

NextBus installs GPS receivers on the buses to track their movements on the streets.  That information is sent to a central computer which examines the position of the buses, their routes and normal traffic patterns, and predicts an arrival time at the next stop.  The arrival time is transmitted to a display sign at the bus stop and is continually updated.  NextBus can also make real-time bus information available via cellular telephones, hand-held computers and on the Internet, so bus riders can check on their buses before leaving their offices or homes.

AIRCRAFT BAND RUNNING OUT OF SPECTRUM.  The radio airwaves that pilots and air traffic controllers use to communicate are nearly filled to capacity, threatening the ability of the aviation system to expand to meet growing demand for air travel.  The lack of radio frequencies, reports the front-page of the Nov. 13 Washington Post, is quickly becoming as important a factor in aviation congestion as the lack of runways and limited airspace.

Complicating the situation is a dispute between the FAA and the airline industry over how to solve the problem.  The airlines argue that time is running out and

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