HPD behind the curve on radio response in case of disaster

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wpwx694

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HPD behind the curve on radio response in case of disaster

09:43 PM CDT on Monday, September 11, 2006

By Jeff McShan / 11 News

If there was a terror attack here a police radio problem would make it harder for Houston police to respond.


KHOU-TV

HPD radios may not be ready for a disaster, but the county's are. What's the difference?

This is a problem we’ve been tracking for more than a year.

Exactly five 5-years after 9/11 the Houston police department is acutely aware that should an attack happen here, communication would be a problem.

In its new monthly in-house publication, the department admits there are limitations with its police radio system, largely due to the age of the equipment.

Replacing the system, going from analog to digital, which would require new equipment department-wide, would cost approximately $150-to-160 million.

That’s money it doesn’t have, but will have to find soon.

According to HPD, “By 2013, our current system, with wide band frequencies, will most likely be discontinued”.

HPD hopes federal grants and portions from a pending bond issue will help make it happen someday

But five years after 9/11 it’s still not a done deal.

The last time it bought any new radios was back in 1990 for the National Republican Convention.

Ironically, while HPD finds itself in a tough spot. Harris County, in some cases, is leading the nation in law enforcement communication.

The county system is so impressive it was recently featured in 911 Magazine.

The sheriff’s department is already on a digital system and has the ability to talk with dozens of other agencies in our area, something HPD is sorely lacking.

The department has 20 mobile command stations so that in case of a disaster it can send these units out like it did during the Columbia tragedy.

Their equipment enabled NASA, the FBI, FEMA, the EPA, and the U.S. Navy dive team to talk with each other.

Each mobile unit has up to six source of redundant power with multiple generators on board. They are all equipped with satellite phones and wireless network systems and the ability to take over 911 if needed.



They have a 53-foot 18-wheeler with 10 911 stations that can back up 911 if needed.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Online at: http://www.khou.com/topstories/stories/khou060911_cd_policeradios.8e06adaf.html
 

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bpckty1

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So, will HPD reinvent the wheel, or be assimilated voluntarily?

It would be nice for the city's TRS to join Borgnet and have HPD follow willingly.

Alas, I am not hopeful, since I am afraid that politx will probably raise it's ugly head,
again.
 

loumaag

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This has been kicked around so much...STARNet (in its present form) does not have the capacity to handle HPD communications along with everything else that is on it. Look around, large city PD departments (and I mean large) as a rule do not use trunked service. The top 4 certainly don't (that is cheating somewhat since Houston is #4). If STARNet is so great, why is that agencies are leaving? Why is it that the chief complaint of those that have recently left is lack of ability to intercommunicate with neighboring agencies? Second complaint was "system busy" or lack of ability to communicate when needed? Is the present HPD system good, no it is not, yes it has problems, mostly stemming from lack of training. And those mobile command centers can tie lots of things together, state agencies, HPD, HFD, etc. in times of emergency. And of course there are patched channels between STARNet and HPD, the problem is that no one thinks of using them when they get into an inter-agency situation.
 

SCPD

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Hi Lou;

If STARNet is near capacity (on site 1?) ... they can go with a layered approach. They could add the CofH system as a new STARNet site as overflow capacity to Site 1. (That's exactly what Austin does with sites 01-01 and 01-02.) I don't remember what the CofH trunked system looks like in terms of peak loads

If STARNet is hitting capacity on one of the smaller outlying sites - it's time to add channels. Might explain the channel shuffling we've seen in the last year or so. Houston and/or STARNet might need to pick up some 762 Mhz channels to take up the slack. Maybe the rebanding process will provide some sort of windfall.

I wonder if there are enough UHF channels for HPD/HFD to build a trunked system. Patches are inefficient. They occupy two voice channels where you really only need one - just because the field equipment doesn't have enough overlap.

My impression is that HPD does not talk much relative to Harris County. They get most of their communications as text messages over a laptop. If so, adding HPD to STARNet wouldn't increase call volume by much.

-rick
 

loumaag

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rfmobile said:
If STARNet is near capacity (on site 1?) ... they can go with a layered approach. They could add the CofH system as a new STARNet site as overflow capacity to Site 1. (That's exactly what Austin does with sites 01-01 and 01-02.) I don't remember what the CofH trunked system looks like in terms of peak loads
Well I don't have load data either, but take this into consideration. It took me a long time to bother to run Trunker on STARNet after returning to Houston, mainly because I had no need to; but just goofing around I let it run on the downtown site back in April for a 48 hour period or so, from an blank slate. In that 48 odd hour period 15187 individual radios were used (not just affiliated) on Site 1 alone. This was before Galveston was absorbed and certainly before League City, but before some of the smaller FD/EMS agencies left because of the problems mentioned earlier.

rfmobile said:
I wonder if there are enough UHF channels for HPD/HFD to build a trunked system. Patches are inefficient. They occupy two voice channels where you really only need one - just because the field equipment doesn't have enough overlap.
I suppose it would be possible to transform the current UHF frequencies to a trunking system, but where is the money coming from for the radio equipment? As for the inefficiency of patches, well yes that is true if you were patching talk groups but since we are linking different systems, it only requires one channel on the UHF and one TG on STARNet and since there is at least one patch always in place (HPD City Wide) all it takes is someone to use it.

rfmobile said:
My impression is that HPD does not talk much relative to Harris County. They get most of their communications as text messages over a laptop. If so, adding HPD to STARNet wouldn't increase call volume by much.
I am not sure I agree with this. I think division by division that HPD probably has more radio voice traffic per channel than HCSO. Both agencies (and the constables) make extensive use of MDT's to cut down on the that traffic but even so it is pretty busy all of the time.

leawoodcops said:
HPD behind the curve on radio response in case of disaster...
I watched the video. It has lots of half truths. Look I am not defending the current UHF system that HPD uses (or HFD for that matter) but the bottom line is that STARNet is not as great as it is painted out to be. Yes it probably is one of the best in the nation for a mid-sized system but that doesn't mean it is ready to take on the load HPD and/or HFD would add on it. Three things struck me about the video, STARNet is not a digital system but the reporter said it was already one. That is not to say the system software and repeaters are not capable because I think they are, but since no one has digital radios, it is not a digital system. The second thing that stuck out is the same rule about wide band UHF frequencies will apply to 800 MHz radios also, plus in the near future there will be the re-banding issue to deal with. And finally, I guess the fact that the same way those mobile command centers can link the various federal, state, etc. agencies can be applied to HPD and HFD. Frequency agile software defined radios work on HPD and HFD frequencies also, just like they work on NASA, Military, federal, state, etc.

If I was able to wave a magic wand, my solution would be to follow LAPD's lead and use conventional digital super narrow band in the UHF spectrum.
 

bpckty1

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"If I was able to wave a magic wand, my solution would be to follow LAPD's lead and use conventional digital super narrow band in the UHF spectrum."
__________________
And, unencrypted, except for narcotics and investigations.
 

red8

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I thought the HPD had some channels on STARNET already. And simulcast on the system with HCSO. I guess what I am trying to ask
is they add on to the system?
 

loumaag

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red8 said:
I thought the HPD had some channels on STARNET already. And simulcast on the system with HCSO. I guess what I am trying to ask
is they add on to the system?
If you mean, does HPD have any normal use channels on STARNet, the answer is no. The Narcotics people have some in common with the other drug agencies in the area; there is a TG patched to the HPD City Wide Channel (5) which is not a dispatch channel and the HPD Helicopters have a channel on STARNet, although I have never heard them on it.
 

red8

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Lou,
Then why don't they put HPD on those channels that are not being
used on STARNET? Instead of having the channels on the system
to find they are not being used.
 

loumaag

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red8 said:
Lou,
Then why don't they put HPD on those channels that are not being
used on STARNET? Instead of having the channels on the system
to find they are not being used.
Red,
You have it backwards. If a HCSO deputy changes his radio to the HPD City Wide TG on STARNet, then he will appear on HPD City Wide UHF channel and the City Wide Mike will answer. If an HPD officer goes on City Wide, no one is listening on the STARNet side, the reason, well there is some activity on HPD City Wide and no one in the HC Dispatch Center cares to hear it, so...

Trunking is not the answer to every situation, HPD uses conventional, just like NY, LA, Chicago. You will note that Phoenix is complaining a lot about the current state of affairs there and they are relying on their old UHF system. The bigger the city, the more likely Trunking will not be used for those very active departments (PD/FD).
 
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God, I hate sensationalist media. *angry*

The problem with HPD/HFD's radio systems isn't that they're on UHF, or conventional, or analog. It's the age of the infrastructure and subscriber equipment. I can't say 100% for sure, but I'd wager a bet that all of HPD's repeaters are Micors, using the same antennas and feedlines as when they were installed in the late 70s. I can say for sure that HFD's simulcast system IS using Micors. It's why their repeated audio sounds so awful - the transmitter frequencies aren't synchronized between the 5 or 6 sites. Then there are the end-user radios: the Saber handhelds and Spectra mobiles. The Saber is a tough-as-hell unforgiving radio, but man, they're going on 20 years old. Support from Motorola ended long ago, so God only knows where they're getting parts for them. When they start to fail, they sound awful; horrible, distorted transmit audio and receive that intermittently quits as the VCOs go out of lock. And I hear this almost on a daily basis on any of the patrol channels. Even their Astro Sabers, which are about a decade newer (and bought from 1994-1996.. get your facts straight, guys) are using 1st generation DSP firmware and are also no longer supported by the Motorola Depot (but you can at least get parts for them). The Spectra mobiles used by both HPD and HFD have at least held up a lot better than the Saber portables, despite their being only 5 or 6 years newer, but even they have their issues (leaky capacitors causing RX audio to quit and the VCO to go out of lock) and are likewise no longer supported by M. Probably the best radios out of either fleet are HFD's XTS3500 portables (bought new in 2000.. again with the misinformation). Having owned and used close to the same radio, I can safely say they're the only thing that makes HFD's kluge of a simulcast system usable thanks to their superior DSP processing of received audio. But.. guess what? They're not in production anymore!

Bottom line is: Houston doesn't need Starnet. Houston needs about $15 or $20 million of new infrastructure and subscriber units. Motorola's current-production Quantar and soon-to-be-released STR3000 repeaters are capable of using GPS clocking for transmit frequency synchronization, so if they wanted to HFD could keep up the same system they have now with vastly improved repeated audio. Ditto for HPD. Furthermore, the current-production XTS handheld and XTL mobile radios from Motorola are light years ahead of the currently-used equipment in terms of DSP audio processing. And even if the city wanted to go trunked, there is absolutely no reason why a multi-site trunking system couldn't be build using the existing UHF frequencies. Washington, DC police did the same thing with their UHF freqs, and it generally outperforms the fire department's 800 system by a wide margin despite being built out with the same number of sites on the same exact tower sites. Well, okay, there is one reason: politics, but that's a topic for a completely different discussion. ;p

Sorry for the mini-rant, guys. It just pisses me off when people who have absolutely no idea how a public safety radio system works start stirring things up.
 

rattlerbb01

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I do like the idea thrown out there of a UHF TV Band addition to the present frequencies. No doubt about the wideband radios/repeaters being legally defunct in the near future, however, there are enough present frequencies that not too many new channels would have to be licensed. I would definitely like to see the fire simulcast system fixed first. Radio training never hurts either, as I am sure with the shortage of manpower, they are just like us at TDCJ: lots of turnover equals undertrained staff. I'm not dissing the HFD/HPD by any means, because I think they are two of the best departments in the nation. But every new recruit has to learn all facets of the job, and unfortunately, when you are short, you rush your new staff into the field whether you like it or not.
 

zerg901

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I really dont like trunked systems for public safety use.

1. When the big one hits, and many lives are at stake, a trunked system is no better than a conventional system. 20 freqs = maximum of 20 people talking (for either conventional or trunked)

2. On a conventional repeater, if you go out of range, you can switch over to direct, and talk to the guy next to you. I dont think that switching to direct is realistic on a trunked system.

Thoughts - comments?

Peter S - Arlington MA
 

rattlerbb01

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zerg901 said:
1. When the big one hits, and many lives are at stake, a trunked system is no better than a conventional system. 20 freqs = maximum of 20 people talking (for either conventional or trunked)

2. On a conventional repeater, if you go out of range, you can switch over to direct, and talk to the guy next to you. I dont think that switching to direct is realistic on a trunked system.

Thoughts - comments?

Peter S - Arlington MA
1. Common sense prevails! Really funny how many people would overlook that. Most areas that would require 20 channels on a site probably also have the NPSPAC repeaters active for immediate use, so five more channels are available if it helps. But good point nonetheless.

2. You definitely can't do it while still on a talkgroup in a trunk system. The frequency would be hopping around, and you wouldn't be able to follow other units of dispatch that are in range. However, they hopefully have the NPSPAC channels programmed in direct simplex, along with other licensed direct channels.
 

scanfan03

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Trunking can do failsoft, and if you have a Smart-Zone system, if one tower goes down, every other tower can switch into seperate privacy plus systems.
 

red8

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JoshW
The media is always good at blowing things out of proportion. No matter what they do. The story could be a minor wreck with no one
injured and they would take the story and sensationalize it. Any thing
to sell newspapers or boost ratings
 

SCPD

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JoshW said:
. The Spectra mobiles used by both HPD and HFD have at least held up a lot better than the Saber portables, despite their being only 5 or 6 years newer, but even they have their issues (leaky capacitors causing RX audio to quit and the VCO to go out of lock) and are likewise no longer supported by M.
Motorola stopped selling these late last year. I don't know the time table for when parts / service is no longer available. Heck, the XTL5000 is alteady up to a model III.

Bottom line is: Houston doesn't need Starnet. Houston needs about $15 or $20 million of new infrastructure and subscriber units. Motorola's current-production Quantar and soon-to-be-released STR3000 repeaters are capable of using GPS clocking for transmit frequency synchronization, so if they wanted to HFD could keep up the same system they have now with vastly improved repeated audio. Ditto for HPD. Furthermore, the current-production XTS handheld and XTL mobile radios from Motorola are light years ahead of the currently-used equipment in terms of DSP audio processing. And even if the city wanted to go trunked, there is absolutely no reason why a multi-site trunking system couldn't be build using the existing UHF frequencies. Washington, DC police did the same thing with their UHF freqs, and it generally outperforms the fire department's 800 system by a wide margin despite being built out with the same number of sites on the same exact tower sites. Well, okay, there is one reason: politics, but that's a topic for a completely different discussion.
I think that's where things get scary. Once you admit to yourself it's time for a new system - suddenly ALL viable alternatives / options are open for consideration.

-rick
 
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