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Fear over updated radio system

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Sac916

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SacBee.com article about the radio upgrade...

"The head of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District has blasted the way the county's radio communication system is being updated, saying it jeopardizes public safety and puts the lives of firefighters and other emergency workers at risk.
"The situation has become critical to public safety," Chief Don Mette said recently in a sharply worded letter to county officials.

Mette said there have been times when there were not enough channels to adequately serve firefighters and law enforcement officials. He also said the system sometimes has spotty reception, even in populated areas.


In the June 30 letter to Patrick Groff, chief information officer for the county Office of Communication and Information Technology, Mette warned he would hold county officials liable for any resulting injuries to firefighters.
"I must advise you that if any of my personnel are injured as a result of this inefficient, ineffective, and incompetent radio system, both you, in your individual capacity and the County of Sacramento will be subjected to civil liability," the chief wrote.

Groff acknowledged some problems, but noted that some already have been dealt with and that efforts are under way to resolve the others.

"We absolutely understand the public safety and the safety of the officers and firefighters and are taking this very seriously," he said.

Mette's concerns stem from updating a system that involves 14,000 radios used by police and sheriff's deputies, firefighters, garbage collectors and other local government employees. The upgrade began April 24 and is scheduled to be completed late this month or in early August.

"There are many complaints about the radio going out of range or being bonked when the radio will not allow them to transmit," Mette said in his letter.

Mette wrote the letter after Metro Fire personnel working an apartment fire June 29 on Marconi Avenue east of Watt Avenue received an "out of range" signal for their radios. He said a fire engine had to be moved before the radios would work.

"In the heat of battle you don't want to move your vehicle around," Mette said.

Capt. Mark Thomsen, information technology manager for Metro Fire, said Thursday that reprogramming the system from analog to digital is costing $8 million, including a $6 million federal grant and $2 million from a consortium of local fire and law enforcement agencies.

To update the system, the 25 channels that public safety and other local government employees had been using to communicate with dispatchers were temporarily reduced to 12 to allow technicians to update the other half of the system, Groff said.

"There have been some challenges going from 25 channels to 12," Groff said in an interview Wednesday.

In his letter, Mette asked for at least five radio channels to be added back into the system immediately.

Groff said the five channels were back in service the day after Mette's letter was sent, and all 25 will be restored eventually.

He said the county has been working with various public safety agencies to find ways to work with fewer channels.

"I think reception has improved, but we still have moments when it is out of range," Mette said Thursday. "I can't say it has improved 100 percent, but it has improved some."

County officials are working with Motorola, the equipment provider, to update the system.

Incoming Elk Grove Fire Chief Steve Foster said Thursday that the communications system covers all fire and law enforcement agencies in Sacramento County.

"Good communications is paramount to what we do," Foster said. "Not having good communications is a situation that shouts, 'watch out,' " he said.

"I think we are making progress," Groff said. "We want to get through this transition as fast as we can and shut the old system off."

Mette said this week that more work needs to be done to address such matters as reception problems, particularly in the Rancho Murieta area and south county. Acknowledging the additional channels put back into service Saturday, Mette said, "It seems like they are being more receptive."

"If your radios aren't working, it is a matter of the firefighters' safety or the safety of the public," Mette said. "It's not a time you want to be messing around trying to figure out why your radio isn't working."

Sgt. R.L. Davis of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said Thursday that deputies in the field have had "some similar experiences with our radios and people getting out of range with radios. I know they (county technicians) have been working on the issues."

Davis said that the times when deputies had problems with their radios they were able to "wait a second and rekey it and the radio would come through."

Deputy Chief Ron Phillips of the Folsom Fire Department said Thursday that, "We have had many of the same issues as Metro Fire regarding radio signal strength, especially in the foothill sections of the city."

Phillips said he would agree with Mette that the situation has improved.

"I think everybody is working hard to find a solution," he said.

He said there have been some signal strength issues on a couple of fires, "but nothing we were not able to overcome at the scene."

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, the city police and fire departments, the Folsom and Elk Grove fire departments and Metro Fire are among a variety of agencies in the Sacramento Regional Communication Radio System.

Link to letter sent to the Bee
http://www.sacbee.com/static/richmedia/pdf/0707fire01.pdf

original story link
http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/14275600p-15085187c.html

source
http://www.sacbee.com
 

Radio_Lady

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antfreq said:
To update the system, the 25 channels that public safety and other local government employees had been using to communicate with dispatchers were temporarily reduced to 12 to allow technicians to update the other half of the system, Groff said.

"There have been some challenges going from 25 channels to 12," Groff said in an interview Wednesday.
I'm assuming that by "channels" they mean frequencies or frequency pairs?

That's one aspect of trunking that can catch people. You can have 20 or 50 or however many talkgroups on a system, but you can only have as many simultaneous conversations as you have frequencies.

One of the "givens" of trunking is that most of the time you'll have no more than X conversations going on at once, but if a city/county/system gets either very busy with routine stuff or experiences a major emergency you can run out of freqs and the next units needing the air will just have to wait (or preempt a lower-priority user, if they have that capability).

Using the 12 channel example... if there are already a dozen talkgroups in use at the moment, units and dispatchers #13 and up can't get on the air until a frequency gets freed up for their TG to use. Yipes.
 
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RolnCode3

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Yes, he's talking about the old trunked system, with approximately 25 pairs (which was cut to 12 or so for a while). The new system has approximately 550 talkgroups, and is EXTREMELY busy.

I think the majority of the problem right now is spotty reception. Everyone seems to be having problems. Most of the agencies are on the new system, but a few of us linger on 4328. While the "local government" users are not the Sheriff and Fire, it's not totally without public safety personnel. My guys, probation, Hazmat, and a whole bunch of others are still on the old system...granted, however, the vast bulk of the PS people seem to be on the C116.

I'm surprised at the Chief's reaction and letter. I would expect this to be a closed-door item, unless he got no response that way, or OCIT promised that this wouldn't happen...and then it did.

I was just about to post the article as well, till I saw it here.

Dunno if people who aren't registered can view the actual letter, but here it is (good reading):
http://www.sacbee.com/static/richmedia/pdf/0707fire01.pdf
 
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Radio_Lady

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Whoa Nellie, that IS quite a letter to make public. But it really is a life-safety issue that can't be ignored. Hopefully Mr Mette has enough political support to keep him from getting the boot.

When LAPD switched from analog to digital in 2001 we also experienced some awful coverage problems, even though we were using the exact same frequencies, radios and TX/RX sites as before. Dispatchers, officers and the Police Protective League (the ofcrs' union) raised hell, and after a few attempts to blame US for not knowing how to use the "new" radios, the brass finally got on Motorola's case and got things more or less fixed. But it was very iffy for a few months, with a LOT of dead spots and many others with just horribly distorted audio. Plus with digital we were now unable to use simplex on the dispatch freqs as we had for 20 years, so they had to scramble and come up with 23 new channel pairs for car-to-car stuff and install them in 9,000 radios. It was a hell of a mess, with a lot of very unhappy campers for a while, on BOTH sides of the radio.

Orange County (CA) likewise had an awful time when they went to their 800 mHz system, and it got a lot of publicity in the media until they finally (apparently) got it right.

Good luck up there.
 

Sac916

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RolnCode3 said:
...... or OCIT promised that this wouldn't happen...and then it did.
Obviously these are two totally seperate issues with two totally different resolutions.

I don't think that "they" ( radio service ) expected so many busy tones by priority 1 users. When Fire and Law Enf agencies get busy tones, that's simply unacceptable. I also beg to differ, simply "re-key" the mic doesn't always work. Everyone was told of the pending issue and the resolution, I think that there was too much focus on this portion of the complaint.

The coverage has been crap for since the beginning. Now it's crappier and scarier. Some major intersections, well populated areas and high-risk areas are getting "out of range" signals. That IS unacceptable. You can't stop fighting with a suspect or stop fighting a fire to move to a better reception area. That's just ridiculous and again, unacceptable. I forsee more media coverage and a united complaint. I also forsee a "rebanding" issue to be brought into the flurry of reasons and solutions.

Another observation....

The only reason Rancho Murieta was mentioned was because of the "powerful" folks that live in that community. There are plenty of dead spots that have a higher call-for-service volume than that of Murieta. This was added only to stir the hornet's nest.

Additionally....

I'm sure CHPD is just thrilled they are "stuck" with this particular radio system for the time being. Their 14 square miles of jurisdiction has several dead spots.

Sad, very, very sad.
 
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brey1234

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The head of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District has blasted the way the county's radio communication system is being updated, saying it jeopardizes public safety and puts the lives of firefighters and other emergency workers at risk.
"The situation has become critical to public safety," Chief Don Mette said recently in a sharply worded letter to county officials.
Mette said there have been times when there were not enough channels to adequately serve firefighters and law enforcement officials. He also said the system sometimes has spotty reception, even in populated areas.
http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/14275600p-15085187c.html
 

SKiPDoG

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I have heard the same thing from an SSD employee, they advised that alot of times the system is busy and they cannot transmit. I'm sure that as time goes by they will use some some of the old freqs and repeaters on the new system.
 

Sac916

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topic being discussed here....

<snip>
 
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servo_fan

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I fully admit I don't understand radio systems, I mainly just listen to them, but what's going on now with coverage that's different from before the switch to the new system? Aren't there still the same number of towers, etc. as there was before? (Actually, aren't there more now that it's a smartzone and not just a smartnet)? I understand about the limited number of frequencies that were made available to the new system initially, and that that could cause busy signals, but is coverage all the sudden a bigger problem than before? Why would reception be so much worse now? :confused:
 

Sac916

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The way it was simply explained to me was that the newly programmed radios are not not connecting with the correct and closest tower. Perhaps something to do with affiliation with the towers/freqs. I'm not sure how technically correct that is, but it makes sense.

I do know that it's pretty sad to be in the parking lot of the Central Division Station and get "out of range".


PS

KFBK's top news story at noon was about the Metro Fire letter.
 
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Sac916

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wayne_h said:
I've split it off as I see it as a side topic. The stickied topic is getting a bit big so I only want things affecting listening going in that thread.

-Wayne
Cool, works for me
 

califzeph

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Hmmm, would explain why the other day I was hearing Citrus Heights on Site One, rather then Site Two, which I thought was set up primary for non-Sac PD/FD use.
 

RolnCode3

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califzeph said:
Hmmm, would explain why the other day I was hearing Citrus Heights on Site One, rather then Site Two, which I thought was set up primary for non-Sac PD/FD use.
It's more complicated than that. Your understanding of how the system works isn't 100%. Many of the talkgroups can be found on either site.
 

califzeph

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RolnCode3 said:
It's more complicated than that. Your understanding of how the system works isn't 100%. Many of the talkgroups can be found on either site.
But why would CHPD use the crappy sounding Site One when their transmissions are much clearer off of Site Two? Shouldn't the transmiter find the tower that's closest to them?
 

Sac916

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califzeph said:
But why would CHPD use the crappy sounding Site One when their transmissions are much clearer off of Site Two? Shouldn't the transmiter find the tower that's closest to them?
CHPD doesn't choose which towers they use, the radios do. If a unit happens to be near a site one tower, it will affiliate with that tower. Perhaps a unit near the Main Jail keys up his/her radio, it will affiliate with site one towers.
 

darklyte24

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so did I buy a pro 97 3 months ago for no reason?.. im currently still living in sac.. and i rarely hear anything on the scanner anymore... this sucks... do i need to get a digital one?..
 

Sac916

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darklyte24 said:
so did I buy a pro 97 3 months ago for no reason?.. im currently still living in sac.. and i rarely hear anything on the scanner anymore... this sucks... do i need to get a digital one?..
The new digital radios should start rolling out for SSD around Jan 2007.
E-V-E-N--T-U-A-L-L-Y users/talk groups on the radio system will migrate to digital after the new radios are deployed.

So, you've got at least a good 6 months before you start hearing digital SSD, and this probably applies to SPD being they work so closely together.

Yes, you will need a digital scanner to listen to the digital talk groups, but that's down the road.

If you're not hearing much on the scanner these days, you've got your scanner programmed incorrectly.

use this database....

http://radioreference.com/modules.php?name=RR&sid=4499

Excluding digital, your Pro-97 can still monitor a whole heck of a lot of stuff in the Sacto area.
 
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