09/20/11 359 W - + 8 - 1 Evening News, September 20, 2011

Good evening Raleigh. Let's look at a couple headlines of the last couple days. They're from the west side of the state, as well as a couple national stories. Then Thursday is a Fire Commission meeting. Might have some notes afterward on that one. Also, double your fun with fire photos from Adams Street and Lewisand Circle. Both Lee and Legeros were on scene this weekend, and even taking some of the same shots. It's always interesting to compare results. 

The radio story is interesting. Charlotte=Mecklenberg uses a private 800MHz trunk system similar to what we use in Wake Co. Our system, though, is part of the NC VIPER system, administered by SHP. I can tell you that, state wide, the VIPER system has much more than 13,000 radios. However, generally the system is set up to make sure things like this don’t happen. As for CM Schools, their radios weren’t “the problem”, per se. What happens when we turn on our radios is that they have to “affiliate” with the system. In other words, you turn the radio on and in that second or two it puts out a signal to the closest tower, tells the system who it is and what channel it’s on, and what it needs to do. The system calls it back and says “OK”. We have many control channels in the VIPER system, along with two distinct systems on either side of the state that are linked together. CM likely has a lesser amount of control channels, so if a lot of users turn their radios on at the same time, the controller they talk to would be inundated with requests. I find it difficult to believe that those requests would tie up the system for 35-75 minutes, but I suppose it’s possible. Also, there are more than just C-M users on the system. Gastonia comes to mind. We’re having an issue with that at State Parks.

Motorola is like the phone company. They’ll never admit there’s a problem, but they’ll find a solution quietly and the “problem” will magically disappear.
Duda (Email) - 09/21/11 - 13:25

Digital is great when it works. But when it doesn’t, there’s absolutely no backup plan. No relaying from car to car. Nothing. I know that personal cell phones usually offer certain piece of mind. But couldn’t the ‘system’ have at least one analog simplex channel? Even a 5 watt FMRS WT would be better than nothing.
scott warner - 09/21/11 - 19:37

Scott, most systems have simplex channels in them. Wake has them. I can’t speak for Char-Meck. It can be pinned to monitoring, training, and reaction. If the units in the field aren’t trained to go to a simplex channel and the dispatch center doesn’t monitor said channel, it’s a moot point. And I’m not 100% sure that Char-Meck’s system is digital, all or in part. But it’s not a matter of digital vs. analog in this case. It’s solely a trunking issue. You can still have digital or analog conventional channels.

I’m very curious to see the outcome of Motorola’s look into this.
Duda (Email) - 09/23/11 - 09:29

There are also different chief’s vehicles to include WC 1 that have vehicle repeaters in them that can respond to your incident if you find yourself in a dead zone.
Mike - 09/23/11 - 09:46

Good to know re: the simplex and repeaters. Thanks for the info.
scott warner - 09/24/11 - 03:10

The difference between digital and analog systems and channels is that digital systems “tell you” when something is wrong, while analog systems let you blindly stumble along without knowing. I’d rather have the digital system “bonk” to tell me that it’s busy, as opposed to trying to talk on an analog system and just not getting through!
CH100 - 09/30/11 - 18:29

eh… or having the radio not respond at all when you turn the truck on due to “OUT OF RANGE” errors popping up for the first 4 minutes while going to a run. Or the radio refusing to key up by “bonking” constantly meanwhile you cannot hear the person that is talking. Or not getting a signal at all on a major interstate highway. Our radio systems have a LONG way to go in this county. Yes it’s better (maybe) than what we had before… but still… a long way to go.
shevais - 10/01/11 - 23:21

Is the answer as simple as more towers in the area where radio coverage is poor? How many total towers do we have and where could we use more at? How far of an area does a tower cover?

I know we could probably use one in the White Oak/Raynor Rd area as we have to use the repeator in the Batt Chief’s car if Eng 4 has a fire down that way.
Mike - 10/02/11 - 10:38

The Wake County part of VIPER primarily operates from 10 tower sites located within the County, with talkgroups on State towers in Orange, Harnett, and Johnston Counties (and likely more with the buildout into Franklin and Granville). Nine of these towers operate as a simulcast network with only the tower at Fuquay Fire Sta #3 being what is known as an “Intelligent Repeater” site. The IR site will broadcast comms on any talkgroup that a user is monitoring within the reach of that tower.

Getting “Out of Range’ for 4 minutes (or 4 seconds for that case) out on the street should warrant a service call, especially if it is a Wake County talkgroup.

When this system was designed, many “if we had only done this…” scenarios from around the Country were looked at to ensure that we did not repeat a documented mistake that another jurisdiction had made, with a focus on ensuring that the tower sites were placed to maximize coverage for portable radio users. Of the 10 sites, 4 were constructed new and the other 6 were additions to existing sites.

We must keep in perspective that there is no “perfect” radio system, nor has there been such to date. Regardless of the band, the vendor, the technology, digital or analog, building a system that will provide coverage to 99.999999% of the locations within a jurisdiction (including inside metal constructed building, below grade locations, etc.) is not only nearly impossible but would be very expensive to do. Maintaining communications between responders on the scene is a combination of the radio system, users identifying (hopefully before an incident) when/where regular comms will not work, and knowing without asking what the back up plan for simplex on-scene communications are. All Wake County radios have 4 direct (meaning non-trunked, non-repeated) channels exactly for this use. Do you know where they are on your radios? Do you know the places within your jurisdiction that their use is indicated? If you answered no to either question, do your homework and share the knowledge with others in your department.

In the next few years, we will likely see a significant upgrade to the radio system in Wake County. There are new technologies in the digital realm that will allow us far more capability using the same amount of frequencies that we have today. There are new radios that can work in multiple bands that may enhance our on-scene ability to communicate with one another as well as expand our ability for interoperable comms with other areas. In the meantime, we have to be subject matter experts on how to best use the system we have to meet our needs.
Olson - 10/06/11 - 12:13

That was a good posting. Thanks Jon.
Legeros - 10/06/11 - 12:43

I’d bet you a dollar that 75% of the users on the Wake County radio system can’t find the DIRECT channels, nor do they know the difference between EVENT and PSEVNT channels, or how to get and use an EVENT channel. The remaining 25% either can’t find those channels at all, OR they don’t know what they are for.

And yes, if your radio says OUT OF RANGE for 4 minutes drive time, the drive should be ending at the radio repair shop. Loose coax connections, torn off antennas from the roof of the vehicle….yep, out of range!

Our radio system (flaws and all) is capable of out-performing most of the humans that are authorized to work with it.

And we still have about 15 ENGINE ONEs in the county…..
Skip K - 10/08/11 - 14:46

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