2012-01-09 / Front Page

Local Emergency Crews And Affiliate Services Preparing For Radio Narrow Re-Banding In ‘13

FCC Mandating That Change Takes Place By January Of 2013
by Michael Stanley
Staff Writer

Emergency Medical Technician Kip Day speaks over the Owen County EMS radio frequency from the front seat of a county ambulance. (Staff Photo) Emergency Medical Technician Kip Day speaks over the Owen County EMS radio frequency from the front seat of a county ambulance. (Staff Photo) Thanks to a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), public safety officials have known for the past several years that the majority the radio systems used locally must be narrow banded by January 1, 2013.

In December 2004, the FCC ruled that all private land mobile radio users operating below 512 MHz (megahertz) move to 12.5 kHz (kilohertz) narrowband voice channels and highly efficient data channel operations by the end of 2012. The rule implies mandatory narrow banding implementation by not allowing any new licenses for devices and equipment with 25 kHz wide channels after January 1, 2011. By the end of 2012, all legacy communications systems below 512 MHz should convert to narrowband operation.

The rule change has considerable impact because most current public safety radio systems below 512 MHz still use 25 kHz voice channels. Thus, all municipal government and state and local public safety systems using 25 kHz radio systems must migrate to 12.5 kHz narrowband voice channels by the end of 2012. This does not necessarily imply that any public safety agency is automatically guaranteed two 12.5 kHz channels from a previously licensed 25 kHz channel. To migrate to narrowband operations, public safety agencies must apply for new narrowband licenses or modify existing licenses while justifying channel requirements by that deadline.

“The FCC sent down a mandate that all VHF and UHF radios within the public safety band, which doesn’t cover amateur or private radio, have to be narrow banded,” Owen County Emergency Management Director Jack White explained. “That means the frequencies that are punched into a scanner, like say, .250 and you’re at ‘25’, but when you narrow band, it drops down to 2.5, so it drops the bandwidth you’re allowed to talk in. That gives the FCC more frequencies to distribute.”

The mandate is far-reaching, from local police, fire, EMS, EMA and rescue personnel, to highway, street and sewer department workers, to wrecker services, bus drivers and school administrators.

“I’ve been around radios and frequencies for 30 years, I’m an amateur radio operator and I don’t fully understand it,” White said of the complexity of narrow banding.

No entities within Owen County have received any grant funding or outside help to cover the expense of replacing or reprogramming radios.

“The county highway guys are going to be the big expense. Another thing that’s going to be an expense are the tornado sirens,” White explained. “There are some decisions the executives in the county are going to have to make about how to do that. There are a few options, they range from $10,000 to $4,000. If they buy new equipment, which costs about $10,000, the equipment will only be down for a day or two. If they choose to send the current equipment we have into the factory to be narrow banded, that expense is around $4,000, but the system will be down for four to six weeks.”

White also noted that only radios purchased within the last eight years are narrow band capable.

“If you own old UHF or VHF radios, they cannot be reprogrammed or retuned to work on a narrow band, they have to be replaced,” he said. “We don’t have the figures (on the cost to the county) yet. We have to get all of the model numbers to see what can be rebanded and what needs to be replaced.”

White said two meetings have already been held with various local entities regarding the switch for Owen County, with a target time frame of June.

“We have to do it by December and we don’t want to wait for the last few months in case there are problems or the vendors get too busy,” he added. “We tentatively told them to keep a June date for us. We’re not going to do the fire, law enforcement and county highway all in the same week. Fire departments will be the biggest one and that will be a day all on its own. We have a courthouse security system here that’s on the VHS system, and it has to be touched. There are a lot of people who use the system and it’s a pretty expensive project. We’re hoping that we can organize and preplan enough so that it will be a smooth transition. It will be a hectic couple of days, but we don’t foresee having any big problems that will leave someone without communication (capabilities).”

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