Freedom of Information Act

Status
Not open for further replies.

k7wcb

Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Jun 21, 2008
Messages
23
Location
Ritzville, WA
I was searching for USFS frequencies for the upcoming fire season, since I will be in 2 different NF's this summer and happened upon this little gem when I was searching the USDA/USFS main webpage. So, I guess calling the ranger station and asking them for the frequencies is out, eh?

"Reminder

Authority:

Under the authority of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the DOI and USDA have designated specific frequencies nationwide for assignment and use by NIFC to support their all-risk management missions. The radio frequency assignments are Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) release exempt and are to be protected as Sensitive data.

If you have any questions concerning the above, feel free to contact the Communications Duty Officer (CDO) or Stephen Jenkins."
 

SCPD

QRT
Joined
Feb 24, 2001
Messages
0
Location
Virginia
This needs to be put in context. The National Incident Radio Support Cache contains 7 frequencies each for command, tactical, and logistics uses, for a total of 21 frequencies. These frequencies, and most frequencies used by the U.S. Forest Service are a matter of public accessible record, that is they cannot be exempted under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The FOIA allows 9 exemptions in which the denial of information release is allowed. Those 9 are:

1. Classified records of national defense or foreign policy matters required by executive order to be kept secret.

2. Matters related solely to an agency's internal personnel rules and practices.

3. Matters exempted by statute.

4. Commercial or financial information or trade secrets provided to the Government for which release might either:

a. Cause substantial harm to the competitive position of the information supplier, or

b. Impair the Government's ability to obtain necessary information in the future.

5. Certain interagency or intra-agency memorandum or matters that are not mainly factual, such as discussions, recommendations, and personal opinions, and are not available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with an agency.

6. Personnel, medical, or similar files for which disclosure would be a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

7. Records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, if disclosure:

a. Could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings,

b. Would deprive a person of the right to a fair trail or an impartial adjudication,

c. Could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,

d. Could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source NOTE: this item goes on for 8 lines in describing what a confidential source is.

e. Would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigation or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law, or

f. Could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.

8. Certain records of agencies that regulate or supervise financial institutions.

9. Geological or geophysical information and data, including maps about gas, oil, and other wells.

As you might guess exemption number 7 is the one that most applies to radio frequencies. The management of wildland fires is the main purpose the National Interagency Fire Center was established. However, because of the unique resources, training, and infrastructure of the wildland fire organization that NIFC coordinates, it can be useful for all types of disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, acts of terrorism, etc. A NIFC national Type I incident management team was tasked with the recovery of debris from the Columbia space shuttle disaster. Another was in charge of logistics and planning for the World Trade Center. It is these non-fire incidents that are called "all risk." These all risk situations could include law enforcement or medical activities and this is probably why they are exempt from the FOIA, under one or more of the exemptions I've listed.

That is the bad news. Here is some good news. Forest Service Manual, Chapter 6640 - Telecommunications, section 6641.37 - Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Exemptions, states the following:

(For further direction on FOIA, see FSM 6270 and FSH 6209.13.) The majority of frequency assignments for the Forest Service are not exempt under the FOIA (5 U.S.C. 522). Law enforcement assignments, however, are exempt from the provisions of the act. Requests for information under the FOIA relevant to law enforcement frequencies, shall be denied under exemption 2 (high), 7E, and 7F (5 U.S.C. 522(b)(2) and (7)).

Do not release information regarding assignments classified as exempt under FOIA to the public without written authorization from the Director of the Washington Office staff through which the exemption was initially requested and the Washington Office, Director of Information Resources Management. Treat published lists that identify frequencies classified as exempt from the FOIA with confidentiality, and limit distribution to those employees having a job-related requirement to know.

Accompany applications for radio frequency assignments that are classified as FOIA exempt with a letter of authorization stating the specific exemption(s) under the FOIA.

Do not release frequency assignment information relating to other Federal Departments. Tell FOIA requestors to contact the appropriate Department or agency.

The real kicker is the policy that frequency information for other Federal Departments is not to be released. Almost any radio frequency list that the Forest Service compiles, or is in the annual Mobilization Plans for each of the 11 Geographic Area Coordination Centers, lists frequencies assigned to the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a result of this policy they do not have to release the entire document. It is entirely possible that those frequencies may not be exempt under the FOIA, but the policy directs the Forest Service to not release the information so that those other agencies may review and make the decision as to its release.

The other factor that should be considered is that just because the majority of frequency assignments are not exempt from FOIA requests does not mean the Forest Service is going to make the information easily available. Many of the annual Mobilization Plans for each GACC listed them and the Plans were posted on the Internet. I used to be able, as a retiree, to request and receive the annual "Region 5 Frequency Guide." Region 5 of the Forest Service covers most of California and the guide was pretty handy. Starting in 2006 they guide was labeled "for official use only" and I was no longer allowed to obtain one, even as a retiree. If an FOIA request were made some Forests may actually make the claim that their Forest net, their most often used channel, is exempt because personnel involved in law enforcement use this net. I'm not saying that I have experience in, or have heard of a Forest responding to an FOIA request in this manner, but I could imagine one doing so.

This is a lot of mumbo, jumbo to be sure. What it is really saying is that you can request and the Forest Service may not exempt from release, the majority of the frequency assignments made to them. Law enforcement frequencies would be the frequency assignments you can bet you won't get information for.

It is possible to get the information without having to go as far as to request the information under the FOIA. Those of us who like to listen to natural resource agencies, such as the Forest Service, have done a pretty fair job submitting information for inclusion in the database. We have gathered our information by listening and searching. I have official information for most of the country from guides and lists I compiled while in the Forest Service, when the agency was actually making the information more available. As this information is out of date, I cannot guarantee its accuracy, but it does provide a starting point. Give me the Forests or the area you are interested in and I will see if I can help you.

By the way, I would not recommend that you contact a Ranger Station for this information. Most of the personnel there will not know what you are talking about. As is the case for most agencies, the people using the radio may not know the freqeuncies being used. The people who generally know, their fire and law enforcement personnel, may not know anything about the policy and direction I've quoted here. They may only be aware that it takes a password to access the information and are not likely to share anything from a location they need a password to get to.
 
Last edited:
D

DaveNF2G

Guest
Exsmokey - Do you know whether USFS has a presence or radio frequencies in the Adirondack Preserve in upstate New York?
 

k7wcb

Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Jun 21, 2008
Messages
23
Location
Ritzville, WA
Thanks for the great info Exsmokey! That is a ton of info!

I have been involved in emergency services for the past 15 years or so, in one way or another. Several of those years were spent as a 911 dispatching center/jail supervisor. My duties have been thinned recently (thankfully) and a seperate 911 supervisor position was created so now I am ony responsible for jail ops. I also have many years invested in being a volunteer firefighter. Also a ham, hence the username.

Anyway, I have some concept of what you explained, as we have policies at my place of work regarding release of law enforcement frequencies. Funny thing is all of the frequencies that we aren't suppose to release are easily found on the FCC license search website. I also know that most people that talk on the radio don't have clue of what frequency they are on, they just know it by channel name.

The fire chief at a FD that I worked for was an Incident Commander on a type I team. Great stuff! Their exploits can be seen here: http://www.imtcenter.net/PNWTeam3/default.html

The NF's that I am looking for are the Malhuer, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman in OR. I will be visitng all 3 this summer for about a week at a time.

Thanks again for the info!
 

AZScanner

Member
Joined
Dec 19, 2002
Messages
3,360
Location
Somewhere in this room. Right now, you're very col
Under the authority of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the DOI and USDA have designated specific frequencies nationwide for assignment and use by NIFC to support their all-risk management missions. The radio frequency assignments are Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) release exempt and are to be protected as Sensitive data.
I always thought this was so dumb. Like scanners can't search. Like close-call doesn't exist (OK, that's a recent development but still). Like encryption can't be used. Like Abdullah the terrorist is going to care what frequency the forest service uses to report a skunk spraying a camper. Give me a break.

Time to dust off the cobwebs and repeal some of these ridiculous laws.
-AZ
 

SCPD

QRT
Joined
Feb 24, 2001
Messages
0
Location
Virginia
Exsmokey - Do you know whether USFS has a presence or radio frequencies in the Adirondack Preserve in upstate New York?
No, the Adirondacks are within the boundary of a state park. The only U.S. Forest Service presence in the State of New York is in the Finger Lakes region. The Finger Lakes National Forest, at 16,000 some acres is the smallest National Forest in the National Forest System. The Finger Lakes National Forest is administered as the Hector Ranger District of the Green Mountain National Forest, with the Forest Supervisor's Office in Rutland, Vermont.

As far as I know, the Finger Lakes National Forest uses the same radio frequency as the Green Mountain National Forest.
 
D

DaveNF2G

Guest
Thanks for the insight, Exsmokey! I used to live near the Finger Lakes region and was not even aware that there was a national forest there. Next time I'm visiting the area, I will do a little checking.
 

LEH

Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Jan 23, 2003
Messages
1,451
Location
Yorktown, Virginia
Exsmokey is right on with his discussion.

Having been involved in some FOIA claims (while working for the government), one of the more salient points is the ability to prove the FOIA exempt claim.

The easiest is of course to support the non release is information that has been classified (i.e., something like secret).

Next in line are those that include personal information or proprietary information (if it is so marked when received).

The level of law enforcement for the NIFC is probably minimal and if this is the reason cited, it could easily be overturned in a court case (if you want to spend the time and the money to challenge it).

The next reason the NIFC frequencies could be withheld is rule number 9. The NFS doesn't want us to know where the national forests are located.

The sensitivity of the NIFC transmissions is suspect. The thing is who's going to take the time, effort and expense to challenge it in court.

To me, this is just one more case of the post 9/11 paranoia that has swept the country.
 

HM1529

Pennsylvania DB Admin
Database Admin
Joined
Jul 16, 2003
Messages
2,651
Location
West of the Atlantic Ocean
To fuel the paranoia crowd, DHS and FBI have sent out a few bulletins in the past year or two regarding the potential use of wildfires as a terrorst act by either foreign or domestic extremists. Just one more thing for folks to use to deny a request.
 

LEH

Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Jan 23, 2003
Messages
1,451
Location
Yorktown, Virginia
To fuel the paranoia crowd, DHS and FBI have sent out a few bulletins in the past year or two regarding the potential use of wildfires as a terrorst act by either foreign or domestic extremists. Just one more thing for folks to use to deny a request.
Yes, and the Japanese launched balloons filled with incendiary devices to start fires in the Pacific northwest during WW II. So the threat is not a new one.

We have more 'arsonists' in this country than terrorists (or is that what we're calling them now?), witness the numerous wildfires in California every year, started by good loyal Americans who love to see lives destroyed by their actions.

I've quoted this before, the immortal and infamous words from Stephen Stills classic 1967 Buffalo Springfield hit "For What Its Worth". I still crank up the stereo full blast when that song comes on, all 100+ watts of it.

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

As the late Walt Kelly once wrote.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."

At least that is what our 'government of the people, by the people and FOR the people' seems to think any more.
 

k7wcb

Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Jun 21, 2008
Messages
23
Location
Ritzville, WA
I'll be in the Umatilla NF and the Wallowa-Whitman NF. I have access to a 2004 Fire Plan with radio frequencies in it. I'm not sure how current that is though.
 

SCPD

QRT
Joined
Feb 24, 2001
Messages
0
Location
Virginia
Sorry I haven't gotten back to you on your frequency inquiry. I've had a lot of company for a few days and could not get into my office as it has been used as a bedroom. I have an official agency frequency directory printed in 2001 that shows the following:

Wallowa-Whitman NF

Callsign "Northeast Dispatch"

La Grande Area (Grande Ronde Fire Zone)
164.800 output 168.150 input

Tones:

167.9 Emily - 6 miles north of La Grande
103.5 Johnson Rock - southwest of La Grande
151.4 Mt. Fanny - 18 miles northeast of La Grande

Enterprise Area (Wallowa Fire Zone)
166.000 output 164.025 input

Tones:

110.9 Akers - 10 miles north northwest of Wallowa
123.0 Buckhorn - 13 miles north of Imanha
131.8 Howard - 6 miles southeast of Joseph
156.7 Lookout - 26 miles east of Joseph
167.9 Somers - 15 miles east northeast of Imnaha
103.5 Pt. Prom - 14 miles east of La Grande

Baker/Unity/Pine Areas (Burnt Power Fire Zone)
164.150 output 168.150 input

Tones:

123.0 Beaver Ridge - 10 miles south of Baker City
131.8 Summit Point - northeast of Baker City
136.5 Mt. Ireland - 24 miles west northwest of Baker City
146.2 Table Rock - 6 miles south southwest of Weatherby


Umatilla National Forest

Callsign "Pendleton Dispatch"

North Half
164.825 simplex w/tone 131.8

South Half
164.125 simplex w/tone 131.8

Since the Umatilla shows no repeaters I would guess they have a number of remote bases linked via microwave or 400 MHz links fed into a voter that picks the best signal for the dispatcher or Ranger Station.

If you have any other jurisdictions, either federal or state, PM me and we can arrange for me to send you copies from the directory I have.
 

SCPD

QRT
Joined
Feb 24, 2001
Messages
0
Location
Virginia
Oops, I see that your information is more current than mine by three years! I'm curious if they match. I would not suspect a lot of change, even with narrow banding.

In Region 5 of the Forest Service several Forests took the input frequency of their Forest Net repeaters and set it up as a second output frequency and then used two newly allocated narrow band frequencies as input for both new pairs. Now they have a Forest Net and a Admin Net. Some call it the "Emergency Net", with fire and law enforcement on it, and "Admin Net", with all the other functions on it. Many of the National Forests in California did this even before narrow banding because the workload in fire and law enforcement in
Region 5 is higher than the rest of the country. A high recreation workload is also present causing the need for an admin net separate from the fire and law enforcement folks.

I don't know if any Forests in Oregon/Washington (Region 6 of the Forest Service) took the opportunity to set up an additional net on their Forest that narrow banding gave them. We expect a monitoring report following your trip.

PS Is the 2004 fire plan you have on the Internet still? I would love to see a copy.
 

k7wcb

Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Jun 21, 2008
Messages
23
Location
Ritzville, WA
I mis-spoke, it is a 2006 Mobilization Guide that is still on the net. PM sent with the link for a comparison. As always, a great post. Thanks! Bill k7wcb
 
Last edited:

n8emr

Member
Joined
Oct 20, 2005
Messages
498
Also keep in mind the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) doesnt force anyone to release information. It gives you the right to sue for the information.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top