XSD North Command and Camp Pendleton Fire

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Mike_G_D

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This afternoon a small vegetation fire broke out in Camp Pendleton. It didn't amount to much in the end (from what I can gather, they wound up letting it burn out as it threatened no structures). Anyway, it was interesting to me for how it was handled radio-wise.

Firstly, Camp Pendleton Fire announced it on VFIRE 21 (154.280MHz with a CTCSS of 156.7Hz) and immediately did a role call to surrounding agencies for acknowledgement! They did state that they were not requesting any assistance a this time. Maybe they've been doing this for a while but it is the first time I have noticed it. The surrounding agencies who they polled included Orange County Fire, Monte Vista (CDF San Diego County), Cleveland National Forest, NORCOM (San Diego County North County Dispatch JPA), and Perris (CDF Riverside County). The only one who did not respond was Perris.

I found this interesting and, overall, a good practice. Given the recent multi-fire incidents in north county with some on Camp Pendleton spreading into the surrounding counties, I think it is wise for Camp Pendleton (who operates primarily on their own federal P25 trunked system within the base and much of that voice traffic is encrypted, even the fire traffic) to use a nationally designated civilian VHF frequency to keep the outside agencies informed and to then poll those agencies for acknowledgment! Interestingly, they then began working the fire using a San Diego County controlled civilian frequency for command (XSD North Command) and a VFIRE frequency for tactical (VFIRE 22). I couldn't hear the tactical simplex traffic but could easily hear the XSD North Command repeater.

Now the bad - at least from my listening it appears that Camp Pendleton Fire, at least, needs to work on their VHF civilian radio channel programming and/or procedures. They repeatedly had problems communicating with the units in the field on the XSD North Command channel. The thing is - as far as I could tell, I heard all of the units calling each other but they didn't seem to hear each other much of the time. Primarily, it was "Pendleton Fire" trying to talk to the IC on scene. The on-scene unit apparently switched input tones and finally could get through but even after that it was very sporadic. I have that frequency in carrier squelch mode with CTCSS search activated. I noticed that frequently (but not always) the base ("Pendleton Fire") would transmit with a tone on the repeater output while the field unit never did. I am guessing that the system is set up like the CDF and USFS systems such that a different repeater could be activated by using the correct tone on the input. However, I could not discern a noticeable change on the repeater signal level when they did this (but it could just be different remote receivers with one primary transmitter). At one point the field unit seemed to get pretty frustrated because of the problems. By the way, the problem seemed to work both ways - sometimes it was the field unit repeatedly calling and not getting a response from the base and sometimes it was the base repeatedly calling and not getting a response from the field unit. They wound up switching back to the trunked system repeatedly because they couldn't rely on the XSD North Command repeater(s). It sounded like they repeatedly kept trying to return back to XSD North Command but it remained sporadic in terms of effectiveness.

I don't monitor the Camp Pendleton UHF trunked system much these days because it is a true P25 system and they use a lot of encryption, even on the fire talk groups. In many cases, some users are clear but the folks they are talking to are encrypted (of course the user radios are programmed to decrypt any encrypted traffic as well as pass any clear traffic so it's all transparent to the users). For me, this makes listening to this system difficult and annoying because my only P25 capable scanners are GRE types which do not mute encrypted traffic on full P25 systems (they will on mixed mode older systems like the County RCS but not on true P25 systems like what Camp Pendleton uses) so I have to hear all of the encrypted garble in order to hear the occasional clear voice traffic. In this case, Pendleton Fire (base) was always encrypted while the field units were sometimes encrypted and sometimes not.

Anyway, I have some questions concerning the XSD North Command channel system for the folks-in-the-know (Don?):

1) How extensive a network is that system composed of in terms of multiple repeaters and/or remote bases, and/or remote receivers?

2) Is any of the network hardware located on the Marine base itself or is it all located outside of the base (I assume the main stuff is likely on Palomar Mountain)?

3) Is it going to remain such that the output frequency of the repeater(s) will be either without CTCSS or with various CTCSS tones or is there some future plan to put a common tone on the output with multi-tone access on the input as is now done on the CDF and USFS repeaters?

It sounded to me, during this small incident, that Pendleton Fire was "trying" to use XSD North Command as might have been dictated by a well meaning and theoretically logical plan but kept going back to their primarily "closed" base trunked system when they couldn't reliably or consistently use the XSD North Command repeater(s).

If there really were issues (again, all I can state is how it SEEMED to me from my listening), then I can see three possible problem areas:

1) Training and familiarity with the civilian radio channel usage and/or equipment.

2) Improper programming of those frequencies and/or equipment.

3) Reliable radio coverage of the XSD North Command system within the confines of the Marine base.

All-in-all, it was interesting to hear after all of the chaos from the major recent fires. It seemed like a good effort on the part of Camp Pendleton to accommodate the outside agencies but with definite (to me based on what I heard) issues that still need ironing out.

-Mike
 

K6CDO

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Mike,

XSD N CMD consists of a collection of stand-alone repeaters operated by the County and the North Zone agencies (primarily North County FPD [Fallbrook]). The repeaters are set up like CalFire's network (without the microwave interconnect). They use the standard CTCSS tone plan for inputs. The County boxes output 103.5 Hz. I don't know about the others.

There are a couple of relays on Camp Pendleton. As you note, the MCP units use their 380 MHz system day to day, so working with the VHF system requires that they use procedures that are not 'organic', which can cause gaps. I hope as the summer progresses they will have the opportunity to train on the VHF side and become more proficient.
 

Mike_G_D

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Hmm, thanks Don! Well, I think the XSD N CMD needs a little extra scrutiny in terms of its CTCSS operation, especially concerning the output. Again, during this instance as well as during the major recent fires, I have noted sporadic tone versus no-tone on the output. I do see the 103.5Hz tone being used, sometimes, but frequently none is seen. I wonder if some of the Camp Pendleton radios might be programmed to use a receive tone and therefor have issues when a signal with no tone is received. In light of what I heard on Wednesday, this seems like a possibility. I could hear all the units trying to call each other clearly (with my receiver in carrier squelch mode) but they could not consistently hear each other - a classic sign of CTCSS issues. Again, the problems occurred in both directions with the base sometimes not hearing the field units as well as vice versa but I could hear all of them. As either unit switched input tones (from the jist of their conversation and statements) the tone on the output would come and go, though whatever the field unit was on I don't think I ever saw the repeater transmit a tone when they were talking (but I'm not absolutely sure about this).

Anyway, I think somebody should poke around this system with regard to repeater transmit tones and/or the user radios' receive tone programming, at least on the Camp Pendleton side of things.

-Mike
 

mikeshepard

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Couple of Observations:

The MCP P25 system is very active with most units "in the clear" - on-encrypted. I get a wall-to-wall signal in El Cajon from Mt Woodsen.

A fire in Lakeside a couple of weeks back had both Heartland and MVU units instructed to switch to XSD CMD-1...only to have several units claim on the RCS that they "couldn't get out" on XSD CMD.

So, there are two recent incidents where the inter-op frequency hasn't worked properly
 

K6CDO

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Just as a point of order, the VHF operations layer (XSD NCMD, XSD CMD1) is not for 'interop.' Wild land incidents in California are primarily operated on VHF due to the large number of contracted and specialty resources that are deployed on a regional basis.

Thanks for the heads up on the Lakeside incident.
 

Mike_G_D

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Just as a point of order, the VHF operations layer (XSD NCMD, XSD CMD1) is not for 'interop.' Wild land incidents in California are primarily operated on VHF due to the large number of contracted and specialty resources that are deployed on a regional basis.

Thanks for the heads up on the Lakeside incident.
Sorry if I keep asking "dumb" questions but, what exactly do you mean when you say "not for 'interop.'"?

Also, do I take it that XSD CMD1 is more for the south and/or east part of the county whereas NCMD, obviously by the naming, is for the north county?

-Mike
 

Mike_G_D

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Couple of Observations:

The MCP P25 system is very active with most units "in the clear" - on-encrypted. I get a wall-to-wall signal in El Cajon from Mt Woodsen.
Um, not sure I understand when you say "..."in the clear" - on-encrypted..." as that reads like a contradictory statement to me but, at least hearing the cell or site that I get strongly in north Carlsbad so many units are encrypted that it makes listening to the system very difficult and annoying (since my equipment cannot mute P25 system encrypted voice). If they ran specific talk groups using encryption and others in-the-clear that would at least allow me to lockout the specific encrypted talk groups but they seem to be quite a "mixed bag" of encrypted and unencrypted users all talking on various talk groups to each other. As a result, I have pretty much given up trying to monitor that system except in special cases (like the fire yesterday - still very annoying).

-Mike
 

K6CDO

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Sorry if I keep asking "dumb" questions but, what exactly do you mean when you say "not for 'interop.'"?

Also, do I take it that XSD CMD1 is more for the south and/or east part of the county whereas NCMD, obviously by the naming, is for the north county?

-Mike
Mike,

An 'interoperability' channel is one that has been designated by the FCC or the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee (CalSIEC) for Interoperability or Mutual Aid use. Examples are the VFIRE2x channels, the VLAW3x channels, the VCALL10/VTAC1x channels (FCC designated, and operationally under the control of CalSIEC) or the CALAWx channels (CalSIEC designated and managed). The CalFire Commands and Tacs, as well as the XSD CMDs and Tacs are common operations channels not under the operational control of CalSIEC.

XSD NCMD is managed by the North Zone fire chiefs, and is constructed to cover the North Zone. XSD CMD1 and XSD TAC1 are constructed to cover countywide (complementing the zone channels), and are managed by the County's radio shop working with the County Fire Chiefs Association's Communications Section. The Metro Zone is covered by SND CMD operated by the City. Central Zone is developing one or more channel resources. Border Command is in place to cover the western part of the south county. Various simplex frequencies are being incorporated into the mix to provide additional tac channels.

In the long run, the intent is to have both countywide and zone command and tac channels.
 

Mike_G_D

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Thanks so much for that great explanation and info, Don! Much appreciated!

Additionally, I feel I need to state that, as well as I've seen (or rather, more accurately, heard) the RCS and ancillary systems work given the loads it (and they) must endure and the changing conditions it/they must work under it is obvious you folks are doing quite an amazing job, so for what it's worth, I, for one, thank you for that!

-Mike
 

Mike_G_D

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Typo....not encrypted. I hear Pendleton traffic in the clear .
Ok, well your lucky - yes, most of the traffic is clear voice but there is enough encrypted traffic mixed in (it is not limited to specific talk groups) that it makes listening to it (when you can't mute it out) irritating! I'm guessing that you may be using a Uniden scanner that mutes the encrypted traffic so you wouldn't likely even notice the encrypted traffic, you might hear some conversations wherein you hear only one side of the conversation but not the other (I think the Uniden's have some form of display to show when a transmission is encrypted). Unfortunately for me, I will hear the encrypted units unmuted and it drives me nuts! The users' radios will pass clear speech and decrypt the encrypted traffic as well so it is all transparent to them. I'm guessing some users encrypt as a rule and then hop talk groups frequently so often will remain encrypted even on a non-critical talk group; since, apparently, most if not all of the radios have the correct decryption key the other users don't even notice.

Anyway, that's just the way it is for me - nothing I can do about it given the equipment I have. I have run Pro96com on one radio while listening to the system on the other and can see the "ENC" flag indication when I hear the encrypted traffic - yes, it's really there! Your lucky if you can mute it! GRE never got that straightened out for full P25 systems (or conventional P25) only for mixed mode 3600 baud Motorola trunked systems.

-Mike
 

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As a cooperating agency, the info we received from San Diego County comm representatives was to program the XSD repeaters as carrier squelch. Someone who probably isn't doing their job and READING the same info is apparently programming radios at Pendleton. I completely agree that this is a CTCSS issue. Also the users are not being taught how to disable CTCSS / aka CG on their handheld and mobile radios. The dispatch center radio is another story, but probably also programmed wrong.
 

Mike_G_D

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As a cooperating agency, the info we received from San Diego County comm representatives was to program the XSD repeaters as carrier squelch. Someone who probably isn't doing their job and READING the same info is apparently programming radios at Pendleton. I completely agree that this is a CTCSS issue. Also the users are not being taught how to disable CTCSS / aka CG on their handheld and mobile radios. The dispatch center radio is another story, but probably also programmed wrong.
You said it better than I could! Thank you! This certainly may not be the real issue at all, of course, we're (or at least I, at any rate) are (am) only guessing but it sounds like it may be one possible cause worth looking into. Maybe someone (or group of "someones") needs to go around and make sure all participating agencies are made clear on the concept of programming the XSD receive frequencies (or at least NCMD) as carrier squelch only, at least until such time as all of the repeater outputs can be confirmed as broadcasting one common output tone as is now done on the CDF and USFS repeaters. Making sure all participating agencies' radio gear (mobile, portable, air mobile, AND CONSOLE/BASE) is set at using carrier squelch receive on at least XSD North Command (where I have heard the most issues) is probably the safest, quickest, and simplest solution to go for in the present circumstance.

-Mike
 
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The interop freqs are listed in the NIFOG, which was updated in January.
National Interoperability Field Operations Guide | Homeland Security

Maybe Don can shed some light on this, my understanding was that different CTCSS tones were used to bring up repeaters in different locations before we had ROIP links and the ability to program separate tones for tx and rx freqs, that meant CSQ was required on the rx side.

Now days we can use split tones and or link repeaters using ROIP like Motorola's site connect for Turbo, I think the CTCSS issue could be readdressed.
 

Mike_G_D

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The interop freqs are listed in the NIFOG, which was updated in January.
National Interoperability Field Operations Guide | Homeland Security

Maybe Don can shed some light on this, my understanding was that different CTCSS tones were used to bring up repeaters in different locations before we had ROIP links and the ability to program separate tones for tx and rx freqs, that meant CSQ was required on the rx side.

Now days we can use split tones and or link repeaters using ROIP like Motorola's site connect for Turbo, I think the CTCSS issue could be readdressed.
I think we've had the ability to do split tones for a very long time - it's not technically hard at all. Also, the use of multiple input tones to select different repeaters/remote bases/etc., is still a very common and practical method for user radios to use. Maybe I am not understanding something (quite possibly) but I don't see how ROIP could replace that method in terms of the individual user radios' selecting which repeater/remote base to use (at least using analog FM). Also, the NIFOG document you mentioned does, at least in most cases, recommend that the channels/frequencies it outlines (at least the Part 90 ones) be programmed as carrier squelch receive with recommended tone transmit UNLESS the radios used allow easy selection of the receive tones and the users understand how to make use of that feature - then they can/should use the receive tone squelch also.

It should also be understood that the XSD channels, as Don outlined, are not national interoperability channels. They are locally assigned (County of San Diego or some in-county agency) and locally operated. These channels, then, are under the control of local/in-county administrations and subject to those agencies' usage guidelines. I suspect that it is a safe and common practice to use carrier squelch receive on most channels anyway just to avoid any potential problems with intercommunicating radios using the wrong pre-programmed receive tones. Still, to avoid annoying co-channel or very near-channel (say, slightly offset in center frequency like those in Mexico which may use different bandplans) interference, especially with stations in Mexico and other distant users, it is nice to be able to use receive tone squelch when possible BUT careful attention must be paid to how the radios are programmed to avoid possible issues. Nowadays, though, most modern LMR radios should be pretty easy to program tone-wise (if not on-the-fly by the user then at least with separate pre-programmed memory channels with different tones) so this shouldn't be the problem it once was - I think most problems now might likely come from misunderstandings by the radio programmers or mis-written guidelines. Still, I think the programmers often "play it safe" and just stick to carrier squelch receive as often as possible; might be a pain for those of us using interference prone consumer scanner receivers but probably the safest approach for the users in the field.

One thing to keep in mind is that repeaters and remote bases rarely use a "tone pass-through" method of operation. That method is problematic as the internal audio filtering has to be made wider than the voice frequency response to allow the input tones to accurately pass through to the output; even when this is done, it can be subject to error and tone corruption. Most critical use LMR repeaters use "tone reproduction" on the output and have done for many many years. In that case, the tones on the input are first "read" by the receiver and then "resent" freshly by the output transmitter. That is functionally no different from "split-tone" operation as the transmitter CTCSS encoder is simply programmed to either create and transmit a CTCSS tone the same as the input OR as a different tone from those used on the input (or even no tone at all). This is why it is relatively simple (in theory at least) to have a multi-tone input system wherein the user uses different mobile transmit tones to bring up different repeaters and still have all of those repeaters transmit the same common output tone (or, again, no tone at all).

For business LMR users, it is common for a conventional repeater to have many different users using separate distinct CTCSS or DCS tones and the repeater is programmed to transmit a reproduced "cleaned-up" version of whatever tone the user accesses the repeater with (from a pre-programmed list, of course).

-Mike
 
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Firstly, Camp Pendleton Fire announced it on VFIRE 21 (154.280MHz with a CTCSS of 156.7Hz) and immediately did a role call to surrounding agencies for acknowledgement! They did state that they were not requesting any assistance a this time. Maybe they've been doing this for a while but it is the first time I have noticed it. The surrounding agencies who they polled included Orange County Fire, Monte Vista (CDF San Diego County), Cleveland National Forest, NORCOM (San Diego County North County Dispatch JPA), and Perris (CDF Riverside County). The only one who did not respond was Perris.
This is probably due to the new PROS communications plan for fires in mutual threat zones. This is to have a unified communications plan for all agencies should a fire break out near a border. It is also used to determine who will be the central ordering point for the fires.

PROS (Pendleton/Riverside/Orange/San Diego)
 

Mike_G_D

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This is probably due to the new PROS communications plan for fires in mutual threat zones. This is to have a unified communications plan for all agencies should a fire break out near a border. It is also used to determine who will be the central ordering point for the fires.

PROS (Pendleton/Riverside/Orange/San Diego)
Interesting - thanks for the info!

-Mike
 

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This is probably due to the new PROS communications plan for fires in mutual threat zones. This is to have a unified communications plan for all agencies should a fire break out near a border. It is also used to determine who will be the central ordering point for the fires.

PROS (Pendleton/Riverside/Orange/San Diego)

Is there any information available for this plan? Is there a website? I did a search and find nothing.
 
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