County radio system plans moving ahead
Morgan County will purchase UHF 450 megahertz mobile and portable radios for communicating on the state interoperability system with two Homeland Security grants totaling $461,926.
The county was recently awarded $251,395 from the State Homeland Security Program grant and $210,531 from the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program grant, said Emergency Services Director Dave Michael.
Michael gave a presentation at the October 19 Morgan County Commission meeting about the West Virginia Interoperable Radio Project and the county's implementation of the new 450 megahertz radio system.
Radios will be purchased for the Morgan County Sheriff's Department, Town of Bath Police, emergency medical services, fire departments and emergency management personnel at the 911 center, he said. The radios are for use at all times, said Michael.
The radios will allow better communications with surrounding counties if a widespread disaster or a mass migration from the capitol region would occur, said Michael.
The state allocated $1,725,260 for four new towers for regional coverage—at Cacapon High Point and Bald Hill in Hampshire County, at Pinnacle in Mineral County and Charlie's Knob in Grant County. The funding also includes repeater radio equipment, site buildings, grounding and other costs as well as $471,000 in Homeland Security grants to Hampshire County.
Berkeley County has implemented the use of the state interoperability system for all county operations, he said. Jefferson County will begin full use by spring 2008 and Washington County will start full use in 2008, said Michael.
"We don't want to be an island in the middle," said Michael.
Although they aren't on the state interoperability system, channels for communicating with Washington County could be programmed in, he said.
Allegany County is going to UHF communications, but it may be an analog system and not a digital trunked P25 system, he said. Frederick County will remain on VHF high-band for the foreseeable future, said Michael. Morgan County fire departments just bought VHF radios.
System connects all radio types
A flux capacitor will join all radios to the new UHF digital network. Other technology can join all types of radios, telephones, cell phones, computers, voice-over-IP, or control radio systems via the internet. Interoperable interconnect devices connect low-band, 220 megahertz, VHF high-band, UHF, 700 megahertz and 800 megahertz radios, said Michael.
The new Internet Protocol digital equipment would allow Morgan County and Hampshire County to be hot-standby centers for each other. The emergency services center could be evacuated and operated remotely, he said.
The radios will have digital signals and multiple users on the same frequency but on different channels. A maximum of 60 subscriber units will be permitted per channel at a time, with six channels per site at most sites. Some three new repeater channels are also needed at the War Memorial Hospital 911 tower, said Michael.
Some improvement in portable coverage
The system is not being designed for portable coverage, said Michael. Portables will work better than before, but there won't be perfect coverage, he said. Adding remote receivers later to boost portable coverage may be possible.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is mandating that radio channel bandwidth shrink from 25 kilohertz to 12.5 kilohertz now, with it becoming 6.25 kilohertz in the future. There is a 2013 deadline to eliminate all non-compliant radios, he said.
They plan to phase out current 800 megahertz and non-compliant high band radios by the deadline, aid Michael. The school system will continue to use 800 megahertz radios, he said. The 800 megahertz equipment is getting quite old, he said.
The system keeps a master log of who is using the radios at any time. They have command control over the radios to shut them down if misused. The new radios can also tell users if they are within range of a tower and how much signal strength they have. They will also have a longer battery life, said Michael.
There will be talk groups for fire, police and emergency services dispatch, local government agencies and non-emergency events like the Apple Butter Festival as well as private, fire, law enforcement and tactical channels. Talk-around channels are used at incident scenes, said Michael.
Need money for more portables
The Homeland Security grants will not fund 450 megahertz portables for the volunteer fire departments or emergency medical services. Two state repeaters with a microwave link hooked to Cacapon High Point would run $200,000 to $300,000.The total cost for the whole system with mobile and portable units is about $810,000, said Michael.
Michael said that he will apply for a Public Safety Interoperable Communications grant for the remaining $378,074.
Michael will bid out for the new radio system purchase and installation between mid-November and November 30. He hopes to have the new radios in place over the winter.
Michael felt the state has recognized the importance of the Eastern Panhandle in emergency services response with the allocations.