Problems reported with county's digital police radios

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Global Database Administrator
Dec 23, 2001
Ann Arbor, Michigan
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A multimillion-dollar plan to convert Kanawha County's emergency service agencies to a digital radio system may not be all it's purported to be.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper has asked for a complete review of the county's radio plan, and has asked state officials to discuss the digital radio system at a regular meeting of the Kanawha County Commission today.

Although Carper believes the new digital radio system is needed, he wants to make sure the radios work the way they're supposed to. "There have been serious issues raised," he said Wednesday. "I expect the vendor and the manufacturer to defend their product."

County officials had planned to switch all communications between the county's fire departments, police departments and other emergency agencies to a digital system within the next three years.

State officials already have spent about $40 million on digital radio systems in the state. In June, Carper announced a $1 million grant to buy digital radios for the county to tie into the system. The Charleston Fire Department is already on the digital system.

But police and fire departments using similar digital radio systems all over the country are starting to report problems. According to a May report by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the digital radio signals can be stymied by background noise, oxygen masks or simply walking into a building.

Some users have found that the noise from high winds, fire engines or emergency saws interferes with the digital radio signals and makes speech unintelligible. The radios sometimes don't work inside buildings, according to several trade publications.

Officials in Virginia believe the digital system's inability to cope with field conditions contributed to the death of a firefighter in April 2007.

Firefighters in Indianapolis are asking local officials to rethink a $37 million project to switch to the digital radio system because of concerns that the technology doesn't work in the field, media in Indiana reported last month. And the city of Phoenix scrapped its digital radio system after spending about $120 million on the project.

Dave Erwin, Emergency Operations Center Coordinator for the Kanawha County Metro 911 center, said he is aware of the reported problems.

Erwin said the problems with digital radios are inherent with digital technology. But he said many of the shortcomings reported in other parts of the country are with earlier versions of the system.

"It's like any other technology," Erwin said. "Each generation that comes out, there are upgrades that are put into it."

The Charleston Police Department has been using the digital radios for months for traffic calls, and the Charleston Fire Department recently switched to the new digital system.

Erwin said local officials and emergency crews have tested the digital radios extensively and found them to work well. But, just in case, Erwin said the county's digital radios have extra analog channels built in as backup in case the digital signals fail.


Jan 7, 2008
Spring Hill, Florida
So do you think this will be a on going problem for everyone ?? Another good question is wonder what they are going to do if they run out of budget tring to get them to work right ??

Also I was born and raised in Huntington WV which is just right beside of Kanawa county ,I wonder if the Tri State area of Huntington is having second thoughts on taking everything digital ??

And another thing why in the heck would the Fire Departments go digital? it just dont make no since , I can understand for police and DEA , FBI and other agents to go digital but the Fire department , that is a waste of tax payers money I think .


Nov 4, 2007
Gothenburg, NE
You have to wonder about the system salesman's commissions are a driving force, Here in Nebraska there was talk a few years ago about a statewide 800 MHz trunking system, after all the facts were discovered, and the maintenance costs were brought out, the state said NO, the current system works OK interoperability is still an issue in some outlying areas, conventional repeaters can fix most of those issues, and for a lot less money.


Jun 2, 2005
Belpre, Ohio
I know i have been reading alot about the digital radios for police and other emerency agencies

and i think that they are not considering the old saying if it is not broke don't fix it. But I also think

the federal goverment is missing the big picture about the hole thing the preservation of human life.

There have been several fire fighters also law enforcment officers hurt and killed because these radios have not done what they are supposed to do.
I live In Belpre Ohio which is across from Parkersburg
And I know when the parkersburg fire and Police Departments went to the digital radios they had nothing but problems.
A couple of Parkersburg police officers was about beat to a pulp because of there digital radios could not get through to the 911 Center.
As such the Fre Departments radios froze up on them during more then a couple of fires. Also Some of the fireman had to throw there radios out of the room they was in to let the outside people know where they were at because they could not get through.
I believe that our public saftey officals should not have to worry about being heard in a emergency situation.
Such as shots fired ,suspect fighting the officers,accidents or walls,roofs,floors giving way.

Also I know there are alot of ambulance chasers but the public is still the best assistance you can get when looking for a suspect or suspects,if they are digital alot of the public can't get the radios to pick them up.
Plus normal traffic and calls should not be encrypted . Now if they are doing a drug raid or some kind of covert operation then thats understanding.
But another thing is alot of your volunteer Fire Departments
don't have enough towers or enough money to do a complete switch over.
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Premium Subscriber
Jun 26, 2006
Stow, Ohio
This is a huge problem, The Salespeople for these big radio companies like to spread the fear among agencies that they need to have everything secure and digital, in Major Metropolitan areas Bandwidth is indeed a problem, especially the issues with Nextel, there are many statewide radio systems out there however Interoperability is still an issue, Law Enforcement seems to be less affected than fire
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