We are recovering from a web-server melt down (complete with
Please bear with us as we bring our web services back on line.
For more information on
Consulting and Grants, contact Jim Eatock at 217-833-2488, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consulting: Been there, done that.
Firefighters Grant Program (AFG)
be happy to provide industry-standard non-specific budgetary pricing
for any local or regional communications grant application
the ins and outs of the AFG process, what qualifies and what doesn't.
the AFG rules, we will decline to consult on any local project where
we may be a potential bidder, BUT...
agency outside our normal service area, please contact us for
assistance on writing your grant proposal for:
communications systems, equipment and plans
Single Agency mobile and portable equipment, radios or pagers
Single Agency fixed infrastructure
And from our electrical contracting side, information on firehouse
electrical or standby generator modifications.
You gotta have a plan...
Things you know:
planning seem to be 10% equipment and 90% politics.|
|Our radios are
falling apart, or have quit working reliably.|
|We can't talk to
each other at an incident scene.|
|We're better off
calling Dispatch on the cell, IF we get a signal.|
|Where do we need
to be in five years?|
Things you DON'T
|What equipment is
available, and what do we really need, vs. what our local vendor is
|What the industry
standards for communication protocols or procedures are.|
|How to get our
volunteers off dead-center and moving forward.|
|We've heard of
"Radio Propagation Studies", but have no idea what they are or where
to get one.|
|What's a TIC-P?|
Our Government Consulting Services:
Specific equipment quotes (mobiles,
portables, pagers, fixed infrastructure).
Non-manufacturer specific equipment
budgetary pricing, advice and planning.
Interoperability and Communication Protocol
public speaking programs for agency and other group meetings (ie,
'ticking' them off, getting them off dead-center, letting an outsider
get them all riled up...)
Investigation and written assessment
reporting of existing conditions and equipment life cycle.
Complete radio propagation and engineering
|Tactical Interoperable Communications Plans (TICP) for your
region or county.|
|Narrowband migration planning|
Site and existing operational surveys and
|Governance body assistance.|
Multi-Year Master Communication Plans to
comply with NFPA 1561 and 1221.
Complete (!) written radio study for your
city / county / region- real "boots on the ground" research, not just
changing the names from the last one we wrote.
|A recent article about our consulting services:|
4/4/2012 8:41:00 AM
Consultant to Bureau County: Play nice, share toys
(Princeton NewsTribune) Staff Writer
PRINCETON (IL) — Lives are at risk due to the poor communication
and inter-operability between law enforcement, fire and EMS
agencies in Bureau County.
Communications consultant Jim Eatock of B-K Electric, whom Bureau
County board hired to conduct a public safety radio communications
study, told the board Tuesday that they have been lucky so far.
People may die because of the lack of communication and
cooperation between the sheriff’s office and various police, fire
and EMS agencies throughout the county, which violates a
“This is the A-No. 1, absolute, first, foremost priority with
Federal Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security and
Illinois Emergency Management Agency in regards to communications:
anybody can talk to anybody as needed on demand and as authorized
across all levels of government and across all disciplines,”
“You have a mess here in Bureau County. You have policies and
procedures that are directly contrary to the prime directive and
the reason that we should be responders.”
Currently, different agencies communicate on different channels
and go through different dispatch centers. For example, rather
than talking to EMS directly, a law enforcement officer might have
to go through his dispatch center, which might have to go through
another dispatch center to relay the message to the ambulance. In
times of crisis, this can make timely, coordinated responses more
difficult and put lives at risk, Eatock said.
Eatock played a recording of the back-and-forth-and-back-again
communication relayed through BuEComm and the sheriff’s dispatch
center between several agencies that couldn’t communicate together
as they tried to respond to a 911 call reporting a heart attack.
The victim in that case felt their response wasn’t quick enough
and tried to drive himself to the hospital, potentially putting
more lives in jeopardy, said Eatock.
“I’m not pointing fingers at any one agency. Just fix it,” he
said. [Note: Specific recommendations are detailed in
the written report. je]
All responders need one channel where they can communicate
together, he said, and when someone calls with an emergency, the
person who answers the phone should be the one who sticks with
them. The caller shouldn’t be transferred elsewhere if they didn’t
reach the right agency to handle their call, as they are now, he
“You learned it in kindergarten. Play nice. Share your toys,”
To make this happen, Eatock said Bureau County’s various agencies
must establish a governance body to set new policies and
“The governance body should be a new thing, a new group of all the
stakeholders, all the players, representatives of those of us who
get up at two o’clock in the morning to go put out a house fire or
to be out on a traffic stop at one o’clock or jump in the
ambulance and go off to save somebody for whatever reason,” Eatock
“They have to work with all the players to come up with the plan.
Right now, you don’t have a plan.”
The other hurdle in Bureau County’s communications crisis, the one
with the more tangible solution, is the unfunded mandate of
narrow-banding. The deadline to comply with the FCC’s new
requirements, which were announced a decade ago, is fast
“The drop-dead date is the end of this year,” Eatock said.
Bureau County needs to replace all of its equipment, Eatock said.
[Note: in both the live presentation and the printed
report, this requirement refers to the Sheriff Department's
present equipment; many other agencies including BuEComm 911 have
current and properly maintained equipment. je]
“Everything the sheriff owns is junk,” he said. [Note:
are qualified in the printed report as twenty-year-old
equipment and base station radios that are outdated and
non-narrowband compliant, and base station antenna systems that
are in need of complete replacement. je]
Eatock recommended the county replace the sheriff’s office’s
portable and car radios with analog VHF units, which are the
cheapest and perform better than other radio formats over hills,
valleys and ridges and through trees.
“You haven’t got the budget for anything else,” he said.
The existing users on this platform are another benefit.
“Every other agency in the county has an investment or a
commitment to analog VHF,” Eatock said.
Eatock suggested the county board could purchase these analog VHF
radios for the sheriff’s office, with mobile repeaters for the
vehicles, for about $165,000 for mid-tier units.
Then the board would need to plan for additional infrastructure.
With the one repeater tower the sheriff’s office now uses, there
are a lot of dark areas in the county where radio reception is
unstable or unavailable, such as in Walnut, Eatock said. That puts
officers at risk when they can’t call for back-up.
“Sooner or later, you’re going to need more towers,” he said. “Put
it in your budget next year. Put it in every budget for the next
complete propagation and radio site study services.
contact us with the details of your project for a system quote.
Access the NFPA Standards.
Free user-name and password is required.
In My Opinion:
|The following is the
opinion and view of the web page author,
and I can't blame anyone else. Please feel free
to cut, copy, paste or reuse my own material as you wish as long as due
credit is given.
As heroic as the
activities of any Public Safety agency may be, as larger than life as
any officer or responder may appear, as much as each individual
responder is sworn to serve and protect the public, there is one
over-riding requirement: Everyone goes home!
While this will be a
major educational program for the fire services in 2012, it applies
equally to Law Enforcement, EMS and all other public safety disciplines.
Political policies and un-necessary equipment incompatibilities that
create artificial barriers to communications are proven to be a major
contributor to incident related deaths and injuries (SafeCom and NFPA)
and can not be tolerated.
The responsibility for
creating and enforcing an atmosphere of cooperation and communications
interoperability lies directly on the shoulders of the individual agency
chiefs, and their governing boards and committees. Ultimately, those
individuals are responsible to the voting public. You can no longer
afford to ignore these issues. It is sincerely hoped that the public not
become aware of the lack of inter-agency cooperation and
interoperability (and the extra taxpayer expense required to maintain
private or proprietary systems) due to the serious injury or death of
any person, either a responder or member of the public.
However, all too often
this has sadly been the case. September 11th was a national
wake-up call. It is my genuine wish that it does not take the
death or injury of anyone else to prompt necessary changes.
Historically, the Fire
Service has the habit of examining every action of every run to see what
they did, whether right or wrong, and to learn from their many
collective mistakes. Billions of man-hours are spent doing so, and that
information is quantified, detailed and extended to all members of the
Fire Service community. It’s just what they do. Fire Service members
have plenty of time to ponder, discuss and plan their actions en-masse
while polishing the trucks between runs, and have turned it into an
institutional art form.
In that, the Law
Enforcement community is at a disadvantage. Most of their time is spent
alone, dashing from incident to incident trying to keep the swamp from
overflowing, with alligators nipping at their backside for the entire
Because of that simple
difference the Fire Service as an institution has developed, through
trial and error, a vast library of validated methods, policies and
procedures, and has the ability to continually test, document and change
their findings. While the Law Enforcement and Emergency Medical
communities have many excellent procedures and much collected knowledge,
the Fire Service has documented and distributed even more. Simply, the
Fire Service has vastly more commonly applicable policies, validated
procedures and documentation to quote from.
For instance, the
generally applied National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the
Incident Command Structure (ICS) were created and fine-tuned by Wildland
Fire Fighting organizations. Whether by plan or by accident, most
emergency managers, especially those initially forced to use this
complicated ‘new-fangled stuff’, find it is actually very simple and
works so well they now swear by those structured plans. Upon examination
many successful businesses discovered that they had been using the same
general type of management structure for years, and incorporated the
balance of NIMS and ISC into their business plans, making them even more
efficient and successful. What was originally created for management,
accountability and span of control at forest fires also works at
Fire service members
seldom do anything without having someone assist and watch their back.
Excessive manpower on a fire or accident scene is often considered not
enough manpower. The Law Enforcement community has a different view: One
officer is often believed to be more than enough, and backup is seldom
called until things are already out of hand and backup is still minutes
away. These biases show up in the standard operating procedures,
and extend into communications planning and policy.
The Law Enforcement
and Fire Service communities are forced to be cordial, but are
historically on less than friendly terms. Law Enforcement
personnel often consider members of the Fire Services to be arrogant
unprofessional asses who drive too fast, destroy evidence, and have an
unnatural attraction to shiny red trucks, fried fish and beer. Fire
personnel often consider members of the Law Enforcement community to be
arrogant unprofessional asses who drive too fast, park their cars in
precisely the wrong spot, are overly concerned with keeping their
uniform clean, and have a fatal affinity for doughnuts. The Emergency
Medical community often thinks the same of the aforementioned while Fire
& Law collectively believe EMS to be arrogant unprofessional asses who
drive too fast, are overly tidy health nuts, and can not do anything but
apply band-aids without help.
Unfortunately for the
public that we all serve those assessments are too often correct. In
light of events over the past ten years, the taxpayers are rightly
demanding that public safety organizations work together in the most
professional and efficient manner possible. Too often we forget that we
are first and foremost sworn to preserve and protect ourselves, protect
public life and property, must do so in the most professional manner
possible, and are required to play together nicely, share our toys and
watch each other’s backs.
The Fire Service,
especially volunteer organizations, are the worst offenders.
Unprofessional behavior, dubious personnel selection, lack of training,
outdated traditions, and an extreme lack of professional standards is
often the norm. There is no place for that behavior now, and even less
in the future. Fire Service agencies have two choices: step all the way
up, or step all the way out. It’s that simple.
All public service
disciplines also need to understand that each discipline has specialized
training and an inventory of toys to make things happen. Each discipline
also needs to understand and appreciate the other’s biases and
substantially differing points of view.
agencies cannot afford duplication of personnel or equipment just to
make anyone feel privileged or special. In the business community,
private companies hire the specialized services of entities or personnel
to do what they do best because it is most efficient and cost effective
for the business. Like it or not that is what will be done, and the
penalty is getting fired.
We should have no
different view simply because we are public servants.
Any Elected Official,
Chief, Firefighter, Officer or Technician who does not do everything in
their power to perform every duty at every incident in the most
cooperative, efficient and professional manner possible should be fired
by their boss, the taxpaying public. Step up, or step out.
discipline has performed independently and entirely on its own, prefers
to speak in its own special tongue on its own private channel, and looks
down on the other disciplines. But from a purely technical radio
communications standpoint, there are more similarities between Fire, EMS
and Law communication needs than there are differences.
The radio vendor’s job
is very straightforward: Pick up that voice over there and deliver it
over here as clearly and accurately as the agency’s budget allows. Do
that for a wide area C&C channel, and do it again to meet short range
Tactical needs. The agency’s political supervision must always have a
Although the language
and terminology differ, all responders require a reliable means of
Initial Notification , a reliable means of wide area Command and Control
communication, and reliable short range Tactical communications. The
main difference is that Firefighters need far more Tactical
communications capability, while Law Enforcement and EMS need more wide
area Command and Control.
dependable short range Tactical communications often mean the difference
between life and death. They operate radios in total darkness while
wearing heavy gloves. Mutual aid has become the norm, so even though
they might not personally know the individuals involved, knowing that
most firefighters automatically work on the same standard (at least in
theory) is a warm and fuzzy feeling. Volumes of policy and procedure
have been written laying out those standards. Paid or volunteer, the
smart professional Firefighters embrace them; many overly traditional
Firefighters refuse to even give them a glance over and eventually
suffer for it.
There are operational
differences as well. Law Enforcement officers perform the majority of
their work alone on the street, while Firefighters gather in herds
around burning buildings and wrecked cars. Law Enforcement often
requires more private or secure communications, while Firefighters must
hear everything relating to their safety.
Many Law mobile radios
are moved to a new car every two or three years, get cold and hot with
the seasons, are often coffee-filled, used for hours every shift, and
still have to reach out reliably over a wide area. A Fire Service mobile
radio may stay snug and warm in the same apparatus for ten or fifteen
years, and on average are only used four or five times per run.
The need to put more
emphasis on portable devices amplifies the problem. Firefighters love to
burn antennas off portables and soak everything with water. Although I
see many battle scared Fire Service portables, I have yet to encounter a
Law Enforcement portable with more bullet holes or knife wounds than
belt wear and tear received getting in and out of the car.
communications normally only require that your portable radio hears my
portable radio over a distance of less than a city block. Performing
fire Tactical functions using any infrastructure system is foolhardy,
dangerous and in many cases a fatal mistake (NFPA). Law Enforcement
critical Life and Safety or Tactical communications require the use of
repeaters and fixed infrastructure and are normally conducted on the
same channel as their wide area C&C. This means that the Law officer’s
portable has to work as well on the C&C channel as his mobile, and over
the same wide area.
In contrast, only the
Fire Incident Commander has a need to use the C&C channel while on a
fire scene, and if his portable doesn’t work he can reach into a nearby
apparatus and use the mobile. A Law officer dealing with a domestic
dispute doesn’t have that luxury. Providing that level of C&C
reliability for a Law Enforcement Officer’s Critical Life and Safety
needs requires carefully designed and maintained fixed infrastructure.
I cringe when an agency contacts me for a bid on changing
their critical Life and Safety communications systems to the the latest
wiz-bang cutting edge digital radio technology. My first question is
usually "Why?". The standard answer is usually "Because it's new and new
is always better." It takes a lot of explaining to convince them to stop
relying on the slick magazine adds touting the "latest and
greatest" for their information, and do some real research (like reading
the NFPA injury and death reports) before abandoning their plain old
interoperable analog equipment in favor of the shiny and new.
From an administrative
viewpoint, the fixed infrastructure required for any wide area Command
and Control communications system is a significant budgetary item, while
the Tactical issues are mainly ones of common radio programming, policy
and training. The silver lining is that while the first C&C channel is
expensive, adding additional channels to a site can be relatively
inexpensive because the antenna, tower, backhaul and enclosure already
exist. The key here is to select the correct radio frequencies, and plan
for expansion and joint use of physical facilities.
The first battle will
be determining the budget and plan for C&C and Tactical needs, coupled
with creating and maintaining an interoperable communications policy. If
you can leverage shared facilities and common capabilities, you can get
the best of both worlds for all responders and everyone’s job becomes
safer and more efficient. At this point, where the voice on any
particular channel or resource is routed is irrelevant, as long as it
goes reliably to the right place. The key is the quality of the
communications proved by shared facilities.
If tower sites,
backhaul and other facilities exist to provide Fire and EMS agencies
with wide area Command and Control communications, why not leverage
existing public agency sites and add Law Enforcement channels to
existing sites? Each agency can still maintain its own communications
paths, while sharing the most expensive portion of the overall system.
Tactical channels are much simpler, as available frequencies are easier
to find and implement.
The real battle starts
when that ugly world interoperability rears its snake covered head. Back
in the day, Andy only had to talk with Barney, the ambulance was a fast
white hearse with a bubble-gum machine on the roof, and the Firefighters
acted more like the Keystone Cops than the police ever did.
Things are much
different today, and will continue changing. The voices now need to go
everywhere. Interoperable planning isn’t just for major
catastrophes and disasters, it is necessary for every-day emergencies
and routine events.
Over half of all
incidents today involve two or three disciplines that must work together
as a unified whole. A vehicular accident requires that EMS, Law and Fire
assets work together along the highway to safely extricate the victim
and stabilize them for transport. Law Enforcement is called to assist on
suicidal or combative EMS calls. Firefighters help move
weight-challenged EMS patients down stairs. Law Enforcement has EMS on
standby for a school firearm incident, and calls in Firefighters for
additional manpower. Scores of volunteers walk off the street to assist
Law, Fire and EMS conduct a lost child search.
Tornados and ice
storms bring out everyone, interrupt cell phones, and need to include
public works and utilities. EMS rolls on standby or responder
rehabilitation for structure fires and Law handles traffic and crowd
control. If it is a big fire, five or six different Fire Departments may
be on scene along with Law and EMS, ABC’s, XYZ’s and other
acronym-identified agencies. News Media will document every miss-step
for the Ten O’clock news.
Today’s changing roles
require that all responders have a common interoperable communications
plan that is established, practiced and used on every incident no matter
how small or insignificant it may initially seem.
There is no argument
that much routine or administrative communication can take place on
private channels, or that the special operational needs of Law
Enforcement blur the line between C&C and critical Tactical or Life and
Safety communications. But there is a point where everyone has to have
common communications ability and all too often that ability is a victim
of political circumstance. At best it is only dusted off for special
occasions where nobody can remember how it is supposed to function.
Daily and routine use of an interoperable plan makes it second nature
when the ventilator starts to throw brown.
Firefighters can be
likened to the former Soviet Empire: they have a plan for everything, do
not do anything without a plan, and have trouble accepting that others
do not think the same way. The positive feature is that Fire Service
plans are well documented, practiced and validated by every-day
operations, and changed when a better plan comes along. Fire Service
interoperable communications are second nature to professional
Firefighters, and there is a clear need for the same to be true of all
public safety responders.
cooperation, safety, cooperation, efficiency, cooperation and training
are key elements.
It's unfortunate that
in many places I've visited, the local politics and personalities make
achieving that level of cooperation as easy as herding feral cats.
Everyone goes home!
Technology will never replace common sense, planning,
training, or tight budgets.
I am a Geek,
no argument, no contest. I
design and install the latest voting and digital systems. But I
cringe at the thought of any first responder agency using any technology
that isn't 100% backwards compliant and isolates them from their
neighbors, including supposedly standard digital formats such as P25 or
Nationally the major "Powers that Be" are pushing and shoving the
Public Safety Community into 7/800 MHz technology, using
Interoperability and newly available bandwidth as their justification.
There's several problems with this plan, the biggest ones being the
misapplication of "One-Size-Fits-All", followed closely by K.I.S.S.
and that ugly word, "Budget". The State of Illinois says we can
all can afford 7/800 MHz digital portables because they have 'cut a
deal' with their non-bid sole source vendor and offer no-bid equipment
under a state contract. Equipment is only $4,000 per unit plus
options and subscriber fees. Such a deal! (Never mind that the
street price of high-mid tier analog portables is less that $600.00 and
have no continuing subscriber fee.)
At the Podunk Fire Protection District, $4,000 is about 25% of the
total annual budget.
If you look at the population of this country, a large percentage
live in Urban areas where 7/800 MHz works well. But 7/800 doesn't
like hills and trees and if you look at the total land mass of the U.S.,
a lot of it is rough and rural, with low population density and best
served by 150 MHz VHF systems, not 7/800 with its attendant
infrastructure requirements. That is an inconvenient truth of
radio. "But Cellular Service is good out there, so 7/800 should be
also. We can drive all over the country and never drop a call." Sure you
can, as long as you're within 10 miles of an Interstate Highway or city.
Try calling from up Bee Creek or out in the middle of nowhere at a rail
hazmat incident or a plane crash. I have trouble making a cell call from
one of my VHF tower sites way up on top of a ridge. Go outside on
a dark night and count the number of cell tower strobe lights you can
see. If there's lots of them, cellular service is generally good.
To have reliable, portable public safety coverage on 7/800 will require
almost as many public safety towers as cell sites. At a million
apiece, do the math.
7/800 MHz systems, be they analog or digital have their place.
They work just dandy in urban settings with high user density where lots
of infrastructure is cost effective. 7/800 works well in buildings
and pretty well on flat open ground, as long as there are towers to hook
up with. Encryption, voting and trunking are a breeze. The
data pipe is huge. Granted there are radio quirks in any system,
but overall its not a bad plan in those settings.
But not all... ask the U.S. Forestry Service-
they seem to be the only Federal exception to this technological feeding
frenzy and perform most operations on stupid old analog VHF because it
works where they work, and 7/800 doesn't.
150 MHz analog VHF isn't new, fancy or cutting edge. Its
just the lowest common denominator (a key element in genuine
interoperability), and has only been reliable since the Korean War.
But while VHF performs well out in the Styx, flows over hills and
penetrates trees and foliage, it doesn't like buildings and urban areas.
The data pipe is small, and proprietary frequencies are hard to get. I
can't send a text message over my VHF portable. But there are
small items that the folks pushing new technology can't seem to grasp:
VHF works better than any other radio band in rough terrain and rural
settings, it doesn't require a fortune in (or any) fixed infrastructure
to work, everyone in rural America already uses it, and it's relatively
inexpensive. And while I can't (nor really need to) send a "txt
msg" over analog VHF, it does trunk and vote just fine. Its just
not new and sexy.
Here at home, we cover 800 square miles of rough to hilly terrain
with only four VHF base transmit sites, have 95% reliable public safety
portable to base coverage, and we do all this with $400 portables.
The State's 800 MHz system covers the same area with at least 9 sites,
and realistically only has 75% coverage for their high priced portables.
There are probably more than 30 cellular towers covering the county, but
we have many major holes. VHF covers us with 4 prime repeater
sites. Plus, we are 100% interoperable with all of the Law, Fire
and EMS neighbors in every surrounding county and two states. We
only have difficulty communicating with the State agencies using the
State's 800 system because they have "moved forward" into technology
incompatible with much of the state. The official State response
is "it works perfectly for us"; the state folks on the sharp end of the
stick have a differing "off the record" opinion. When we really
need to talk to them, we call them on the cell phone (if we both have
coverage). The official State response to this problem: "Buy some
expensive 7/800 MHz sole-source radios and pay the monthly user fees to
our vendor, because we're getting rid of our interoperable VHF
equipment." How's that for a statewide interoperability plan?
A great many rural responders simply don't have (and won't have)
adequate 7/800 MHz infrastructure coverage for the areas where they
have to have it. Putting up a million dollar 7/800 MHz
tower to cover a dozen miles of state road and a hundred square miles of
scattered farm houses will be low on the list of priorities. Nor
can most first responders afford to replace cheap, perfectly functional
stupid old VHF analog radios with gee-wiz new 7/800 MHz digitals at ten
times the cost.
Recently, the State has warned that the present budget will not allow
them to even update their aging VHF interoperable base stations to
narrowband. The result will be even further isolation of state assets
from local assets. Let's just say there are 100 state-owned sites, each
with four radios. If the State uses an economical option, each base
stations should cost less than $10K installed- remember, its just a new
radio on the same center frequency, not a whole new tower or console
interface. On a statewide basis this should cost the
taxpayers far less than $5M, and would maintain interoperability with
less financially fortunate municipalities.
Option one: Nationally, spent hundreds of billions of our scarce tax
dollars to build towers, force one single technology to work with
guaranteed coverage in all locations, assist with the artificially high
cost of sole-source equipment and access fees, put non-urban first
responders at the tail end of the line, and line the pockets of the
vendor with the most lobbyists.
Option two: Leverage and support what ever really works and fund the
most cost effective plan (whatever band or technology that may be for a
given area), then cut away the over-engineered red tape plans, get your
retirement funds out of the select vendor's stocks, and bridge the
systems that work best in any one area at a tenth of the total cost for
the one time a year we have a big 'Yall Come incident. And make it
ALL happen, including the 'Yall Come pre-plan.
I applaud the State of Missouri and their plan for the MOSWIN
network. They're not trying to force the one-size-fits-all square peg
into a geography with round holes. Missouri is heavily forested with
scenic hills and valleys, the perfect playground for VHF. Almost all the
existing municipalities already use VHF. In the major urban areas 7/800
is already in use and works well (growing pains excepted). The MOSWIN
system will be built to use VHF statewide, with the VHF linked to 7/800
networks in the urban areas. If you have access to either band, you can
talk to all of the interoperable users on both bands, using the network
as a full-time talkgroup bridge. Missouri has also clearly indicated the
need to allow multiple vendors to supply qualified equipment to operate
on the network. Even better, MO-DPS is the one who can say who is
qualified and who is not, an ability that is retained by the primary
vendor in several other statewide networks.
Apply technology sensibly, and partner instead of parallel. Use
7/800 MHz where it works best, use other technology where it works
better, create and enforce open standards, pre-plan bridges and
links, and genuinely support common interoperability channels.
In the mean time, I guess this means a lot of us will just keep on
And talking reliably to our other stupid neighbors.
je, who says 'Merry Christmas, 2011'
I can't see the payback.
I just spent a couple of hours
creating a spreadsheet comparing our very functional county-wide
existing (and paid for) stupid old VHF analog system versus switching
300+ radios over to the Illinois Starcom system.
Non-technical and budget-blind bureaucrats just don't get it that
there isn't one universally perfect radio medium. Its like having the
entire fire department argue and vote on whether a 114.8 CTCSS code is
better than a 103.5 CTCSS code when there is no operational advantage
to either one. (And yes, I have witnessed that very argument.)
Pre-planning and ACU's or bridges work, and are cheap compared to
spending millions t communicate at a major incident that might happen
once a year. Don't get me wrong on one important point: Everyone has
to be ready for that one annual big incident, even if it never
Cost per unit.
If you add up all the replacement, repair and
preventive maintenance costs for our existing portable/mobile radios
and infrastructure system, it works out to about $165/radio/year, for
all radios county-wide. Dumping our old analog radios and replacing
them with genuine Mother radios amortized over 5 years, using only
genuine Mother replacement parts, and paying Mother's $53/Mo/Radio fee
works out to over $1,800/radio/year. (Daryl
figures the State pays over $2,000/radio/year just
for Starcom Infrastructure.) When Mother gets their new $70/mo/radio
user fee that's part of their non-bid contract, that figure goes up. I
can buy THREE mid- or high-tier analog portables a year form another
manufacturer for the same money, and throw them away when they get
dirty. IF Starcom was a genuine open system and other vendor's Public
Safety grade trunking P25 equipment could be used on the Starcom
system (and still using the higher monthly fee), I come up with about
$1,350/mo/year. Mother pays lip service to "evaluating" other
equipment for use, but in reality it will never happen. Allowing that
to happen could save us taxpayers $5-10 million a year, but those
savings would come right off Mother's bottom line, so it won't fly.
That proves that the "economy of scale" dream is just a dream.
Paying for new radios.
DHS is only putting grant money into
statewide planning and metro areas. We're a 17,000 population rural
county. With the exception of AFG regional grants (which haven't been
going for over $300K) I see about $250K annually and $1.25M over 5
years to be made up out of the local budget, not including the user
fees. The USA is broke. Illinois is really broke. We don't have it
locally, and are unlikely to get it.
Better in some areas, worse in others. We already
have a multi-site voted 3-channel VHF system. We get 95% regional
analog VHF portable to base/repeater coverage now, and Mother has 9
towers - yes, 9 - that cover the high spots in our 800 square mile
corner of the world. 7/800MHz doesn't like hills and foliage, and
that's about all we have. Voice quality? Digital sounds good when
everything works right- which isn't always the case. Analog can get
scratchy but still be useable. (And I still remember being on patrol
with just a 39.5 Lo-Band radio and swooning when the neighbors went to
a "cutting-edge" VHF analog repeater. I also remember trunk-mount
radios with vacuum tubes, but I'm dating myself.)
Ease of use.
A 16-channel analog radio is really pretty simple
to use, and most of the time 12 of those channels are never used.
Trunking adds major points of failure, and digital operations have
their own quirks. I have end users complaining now that 2 or 3
channels are too confusing for responders- I can't wait to have them
use a complex multi-banked trunking radio at one of the 5 structure
fires they have a year. Scanning analog channels is easy.
Scanning talkgroups is problematic, especially when you need to listen
to more than 2 or 3.
95% of our communications stay within a
single agency (and monitored by the neighbors), or are paged as joint
fire/EMS incidents. We are presently 100% interoperable on analog VHF
with all of our neighbors (except ISP), including the adjoining state.
IREACH, MABAS and V-TAC channels are universally deployed and used for
tactical interoperability. Per the ISP, non law enforcement folks
shalt not speak on ISPERN.
IREACH is an option, but it now
resembles the old low-band 39.5MHz sheriff's channel with noise and
confusion, and it only gets monitored when users are reminded. Because
the ISP and DNR are almost strictly Starcom, we have serious
problems communicating with them; Troopers have difficulty talking
directly to our 911 dispatchers, largely because we use narrowband
channels and their older Syntor mobiles won't go there. Troopers and
local law enforcement almost always communicate via cell phone, or
have the county dispatchers make a telephone call to the ISP
dispatchers to relay information. If a local bank gets held up, all
our neighbors can hear our traffic, but ISP Troopers eating lunch
across the street won't know about the incident until our local cars
show up, lights a-flashing
Major incident communications.
If we have "the big one" and
have to talk to a handful of outside agencies, they can use some our
cached radios, get IEMA or Wildland cached radios, put our stupid old
analog frequencies in their VHF radios (IF they are still allowed to
have them), or put up a bridge. Instant? Nope, but you gotta have a
plan. Our dispatch center does have 7/800 trunked capability just in
case, as do a handful of other users.
Broadband and other super-technology.
Our population density is
about 24 people per square mile. Wire telephone and cable companies
are loosing their collective rears. We only have adequate cell
coverage because we're close to major highways. I doubt that we will
rank far up there for getting universal high-speed public safety
access. And of course, the costs will be very "reasonable"- Congress,
DHS and the FCC are involved.
20 years from now, stupid old analog radios will
still be available, practical and affordable for a rural fire
department with an $18,000 annual budget to buy insurance, fuel, heat,
hose and new boots, and lacking the $12,500 to pay the yearly Starcom
user fees. P25? Its already outdated and non-standardized, and has
"issues". Even the FCC Chairman isn't an optimist. Only a small
handful of existing P25 radios can be updated to anything new, if
that. Today's new P25 phase 1 radios can't be updated to phase 2, if
and when its standardized. Something substantially better will come
along every 3 or 4 years. A 10-year technology commitment is a joke-
just look at the computer you're reading this on and compare it to
what was available only five years ago.
The following is
based both on the collective experience of first responders, a little
technical knowledge, and the collective wisdom of NFPA 1221 and
For any public safety incident, communications
needs can be broken down into three areas. They are, in order of use:
- Initial notification.
- Response command, control and coordination.
- Tactical Operations.
Each of these three communication PATHS should be considered very
different, and each has its own unique needs and operational rules.
In a bit more detail, the first one, Initial Notification, is
perhaps the simplest yet most misunderstood and misapplied. The
purpose of Initial notification is just that, the first notification to
responders of the who, what and where that gets the troops out of bed
and rolling in the right direction. For most agencies, we're talking
plain old pagers, or radios with page alert features enabled. For the
technically inclined, cell phone SMS, or a wide variety of other means
all work. The hard and fast rule is that everyone gets the
notification in a reliable and timely manner.
In the old days, we rang the bell (or whistle or siren) at the fire
house and everyone (who lived in running distance anyway) came running.
In today's world of specialized and wide-ranging operations, that old
simple system (albeit effective for a small area) doesn't give us enough
information. To make matters worse, proprietary radio channels are
pretty hard to find, and when you step back and look at the big picture,
really don't make much sense. You need more information! Yes, I
want to know when my own agency if called out, but really don't want
everyone in town to come for a look-see.
What does make sense, is for one combined joint regional
initial notification channel with good base talk-out coverage to be used
by everyone in my region, so I can get the big picture. If I don't care
about anything but my own agency, give me a pager that will only open up
when our name is called; that way I can blissfully ignore
everyone else without affecting the whole system. Having a wide
area coverage also means that my radio will alert in a wide geographical
area, not just within the small footprint of my own small proprietary
transmitter. I can still set my pager to its narrow setting and keep my
narrow view, but I also have the opportunity to know that a neighboring
agency has been called out, and that I may need to stroll to the
house and provide mutual aid. Or as happens far too often, the
neighbors don't have anyone available to respond, in which case I may be
going as the primary responder.
But, here's where things get muddy.
The downside to everyone in a region using one initial notification
channel is it that becomes congested. Its always paging. And it is
always busy so I can't talk back on it. But guess what? Once I am on the
way, I don't NEED the Initial Notification channel any more. I've
already BEEN notified and can forget about it. And I don't ever
need to talk on it, because I can use my response command, control and
coordination channel. (NFPA say 750 calls a year warrants an exclusive
paging channel for this reason.)
OK, you got notified and have your boots on. Now what?
You change channels. and either say that you're on the way, or listen to
the C&C channel to make sure someone is. I once had a rural fire chief
tell me that his guys were smart enough to pump a truck or perform Haz-Mat
operations along an interstate highway, but were too dumb to switch
channels on their radio. Honest. Guys, learn to change
The response command, control and coordination (a new concept, aka
the C&C channel) is used for communication between ALL assets assigned
to an incident not actively performing life and safety
operations. This is the channel where you tell dispatch you're on the
way. This is where you find out who else is (or isn't) responding. This
is where you talk truck to truck between your own units or with
responders from two districts over. This is where you announce "THE
PLAN", and make sure everyone knows what to do. This is the channel
where everyone who needs to know what is going on can find out.
Technically, a good C&C channel is repeated, or trunked, and has
coverage over your entire region. Here is where the latest technology is
best applied. Everyone who talks, be it from the dispatch console, a
truck or a responder's portable, can be heard by everyone else.
Communication flows seamlessly along this path. The downside is that you
need more than one C&C communications path if you have more than one
incident at a time, and it requires an investment in infrastructure.
NFPA has this down in detail, but the above simply sums it up.
Now we get to the last communications path, Tactical Operations. And
here is where many agencies screw up.
Assets arrive at the Incident Scene and Command is established. The
C&C channel is not only worthless for tactical operations, but can be a
dangerous, even fatal choice. If I have a serious life and safety issue,
I can't wait for someone miles away to shut up. If I'm miles away, I
can't hear a portable in the basement calling mayday and will cheerfully
walk all over them. If I am dependent on a distant repeater, or even
worse a trunking controller to give me a 'clear to talk' chirp, I may be
in trouble. Firefighters have died for these reasons.
Tactical operations involve life and safety, are usually within close
proximity, and require only the simplest of technology. That's ALL
they need to be and no more. Nosey neighbors twenty miles away don't
NEED to hear your operational traffic anyway. That's why we move
operations to a dedicated tactical channel that is:
- Useable by everyone involved in operations within the short range
and scope of the Incident Scene.
- Is plain vanilla, dumb, stupid old simplex, that doesn't add ANY
points of failure between the transmitter in my hand and the receiver
at your ear.
- Doesn't have anyone talking on it that the Incident Commander
can't hit with a rock.
I hear all too often that the Incident Commander can't listen to two
channels. If you're smart enough to wear the white hat, you get to carry
two radios. One for the C&C channel to talk to people you can't see, and
one to talk to the tactical folks you can see. (Two radios - one on C&C
and one on tactical - is preferred over a single scanning radio.) If the
IC is too deeply involved in Operations to monitor the C&C channel, have
someone else monitor it and tap the Commander on the shoulder when need
And again, if you're not on-scene, stay off the tactical channel for
fear of talking over someone calling mayday, or an evacuation order.
This also applies to 'foreign' users on that channel. If you have
someone distant on a high powered base station covering up your own
local tactical communications, you have picked the wrong channel.
In Illinois, MABAS has six dedicated fireground channels. Everyone in
the state should have them and use them on every incident requiring
tactical communications. They're all low power, so the chances of your
traffic on FG-RED being covered by another incident on FG-RED over in
the next county are slim. And even better, if your simple incident
turns into a big 'Yall Come, any foreigners coming to play already have
your tactical channel in their radio.
And please, please, please have a couple of training sessions every
year just on radio communications, and make sure all your radios really
and considerations from others:
|December 21, 2010-
The U. S. Inspector General, acting on the
request of the NTIA, has launched an investigation into the
noncompetitive nature of a grant for broadband communications in the San
Francisco Bay Area. In brief, Motorola was handed the no-bid $50 million
contract "in a manner that lacked transparency and prudence”, and
without the vote of any public body.
Read more about it
To paraphrase the San Jose, CA city attorney, a lot of folks
better be hiring lawyers.
Motorola faces bribery probe
Posted in September 20th, 2011
Click here to read the original article in
The New Zealand Herald — 09/05/2011
US regulators are investigating an Austrian lobbyist and US telecom
maker Motorola over alleged bribes of up to 2.2 million euros
(NZ$3.68m), Austrian weekly Profil revealed at the weekend.
From April 2004 onwards, Motorola apparently transferred up to 2.2
million euros to three firms controlled by lobbyist Alfons
Profil said in a summary of a report to be published on Monday, local
Mensdorff-Pouilly then used this money to make “illegal payments”
to key political figures in Europe and the Middle East, it said.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission had evidence that “people
in office” were bribed with presents and holidays, and has now
launched a probe against Mensdorff-Pouilly and Motorola, Profil added.
The news magazine already reported last week on an alleged contract
between the lobbyist and the US telecom company over a digital
radio project by the Austrian government.
Mensdorff-Pouilly allegedly helped secure the project for a
consortium including Motorola and Telekom Austria, gaining up to 2.6
million euros in the process, according to Profil.
Telekom Austria is itself facing a wave of corruption claims that
emerged in recent weeks, and on Friday announced an external probe by
international experts into the allegations.
Mensdorff-Pouilly himself is no stranger to corruption claims.
In January 2010, he was charged in Britain with bribing European
officials to secure fighter jet contracts for defence giant BAE
Systems. The charges were eventually dropped.
Additional information is available from
And another, via industry news portal:
Austrian police network tender possibly influenced – report
Monday 29 August 2011 | 17:00 CET
New allegations have emerged in the corruption scandal surrounding
Telekom Austria. A report in the magazine Profil, carried by Austrian
news agency APA, said lobbyist Alfons Mensdorff Pouilly has been
accused of receiving EUR 3.7 million in illegal payments for services
provided in the tender for the police’s digital radio network in 2004.
All the major political parties have called for a parliamentary
investigation into the accusations, while the governing OVP was more
cautious, saying only it expects a full explanation. The accusation is
that Mensdorf-Pouilly received EUR 1.1 million from Telekom Austria
and up to EUR 2.6 million from Motorola, which partnered with Alcatel
in the Tetron consortium to bid for the contact to build the police
The Tetron consortium won the contract in a second tender, after the
then minister for interior, Ernst Stasser (OVP), took the contract
away from the original winner, the Mastertalk consortium, which
included Siemens, RZB, Verbund and Wr. Stadtwerke. Telekom Austria was
responsible for delivering the infrastructure to the consortium.
Mensdorff-Pouilly reacted through his lawyer, saying that the EUR 1.1
million received from Telekom Austria was completely legal for
services rendered and can be found in his administration and financial
figures for the concerned period.
And here’s a 3 minute video by an undercover journalist exposing
MEP Ernst Strasser (implicated in TETRA bribe scandal) as a lobbyist.
Public Safety & Homeland Security
Interoperability Is a Cultural Problem (Opinion)
We’ve written extensively about interoperability, mostly about
the nuts and bolts of a system being deployed and the grant
process that allowed said deployment to happen.
If there’s collaboration among the agencies or jurisdictions
involved, we jump all over it, because that’s the name of the
game these days.
A common refrain years ago was that agency or jurisdiction A
couldn’t communicate with agency or jurisdiction B — or even
within its own agency or jurisdiction. That was said to be an
operability problem — not an interoperability problem.
Billions of dollars have been spent on interoperability since
9/11 and genuine progress has been made, but it seems that
emergency managers view interoperability as something still to
For the most part, if agency A wants to talk to agency B, it can
be achieved; the technology to facilitate this is available. And
still interoperability is a problem. We heard so at a recent
roundtable discussion involving several emergency managers.
Everybody at the table agreed: It’s a cultural problem. Agency
A doesn’t talk to agency B because the two aren’t really
familiar with each other — or maybe they just don’t want to
“Everybody talks about the quantifiable parts of
interoperability — the money, the hardware — but not enough
about the behavior part of it,” one emergency manager said. “How
much effort is being put into the cultural aspect of it?”
Even where there’s a new, multimillion-dollar system, agency
personnel revert to previous behavior. “Everything happens the
way it did before, even after getting this new system,” another
emergency manager said. “The police guy calls the dispatcher and
he calls the fire guy; they still talk in silos. Unless we
address this behavior, we’ll have a $100 million doorstop.”
There’s also the issue of language. We know different
jurisdictions and agencies use different codes to communicate.
Coming up with a common language has to be the first part of the
cultural change, said an emergency manager.
And emergency managers can play key roles in this quest by
hosting planning calls and conference calls — getting people to
communicate regularly. “The best thing to do is have commanders
sit next to each other in the operations centers.”
Another thing about interoperability that people stub their toes
on is the notion that everyone must be able to talk to everyone,
one participant said. “Everybody on the ground doesn’t have to
talk to each other. When you bring people from other
jurisdictions, you can plug people into your system. That to me
is true interoperability.”
I wonder if in 10 years we’ll still be writing about
interoperability as we do today — that it’s something that’s
desired but still needs to be attained. Or will agencies and
local governments move outside of their comfort zones and take
advantage of the technology that’s readily available — will they
open the dialog with their neighbors, making interoperability
I am a serial entrepreneur in
the telecommunications field with focus on developing advanced
technology for public safety. My associates and I design, build, and
maintain telephone and data communications systems for the
police, fire and emergency medical sector. We are contractually
responsible for more than twenty-five E911 dispatch centers, hundreds
of base stations, dozens of radio sites and 80 fire stations in the
San Francisco Bay Area. I live and work in San Mateo County,
I’ve been active in the
open-source software community for many years, with particular
interest in applying open-source solutions to local government.
My current avocation is learning to produce and edit professional
quality video (Final Cut Pro with a Sony PMW-EX3 camera) as a way to
provide training on technical subjects for first responders.
Please contact me by e-mail if
you have questions or comments.
For more information about my
companies and non-profit organization, please see:
Posted in December 12th, 2011
DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction and any
references, direct, inferred or assumed, to your favorite vendor and/or
equipment, real person, Slick-Salesman, troll, elf, and/or other
imaginary creature, living or dead, is not intended to be specific
however intentional it may appear. If you wish to complain that I am
singling out vendor “X”, county “Y” and state “Z”, I will cite the same
situation with vendors “A” & “O” in counties “Q” & “R” in states “E” and
“F”. That being said, if you believe that there are not multiple
instances that could be construed to be the subject of this work, you
had better keep your rosy-colored glasses handy and watch out for
marauding trolls and fire-breathing dragons as you march blissfully
through your local forest.
Once upon a time
in the land of Far-Far-Away in the State of Insolvent there were some
chiefs from Bewildered County. They had an old-fashioned stupid plain
vanilla analog radio system that worked perfectly two thirds of the
time, but the other third of the time their radios had a little static.
Even though it almost never-ever failed completely it just wasn’t rosy
and perfect. They could still talk to all their neighbors (who had
old-fashioned stupid plain vanilla analog radio systems too), but not
directly to the Big Department in Crooked County hundreds of miles away,
or to the Inspectors from the State of Insolvent or the Men from
Far-Far-Away. And most importantly, it just wasn’t shiny and NEW.
The Big Chief in Bewildered County had been
envious of the shiny new super-duper radio system Crooked County was
using. Those NEW magical radios just had to be BETTER and work
super-duper everywhere. He wanted ALL of his Indians to be able to talk
to ALL of the Big Department Indians or to ALL of the Inspectors from
the State of Insolvent or to ALL of the Men from Far-Far-Away anytime
they wanted, even though they probably wouldn’t ever need to. So he got
a bid from the same vendor that Crooked County and the State of
“Crooked County and the State of Insolvent buy
from them,” he told the other Chiefs. "The Slick-Salesman even showed me
a fancy parchment from his vendor that says they exceed the Far-Far-Away
Department of Kingdom Security Everything Must Work Together Standards.
Their price was only two million walnuts and the Slick-Salesman promised
it was a bargain for the newest bestest thing. I don’t even need to get
another bid because everything is on the Insolvent State Contract.
Besides, Slick-Salesmen are never wrong and he confirmed that New is
Old Chief Fuddyduddy said, “Wait just a minute.
The Big Department’s system is designed for high-rise castles or flat
wide open fields. It won’t work well here in Bewildered County because
all we have is scenic forested hills and charming little cabins nestled
down in deep valleys. We already use all the stupid plain vanilla analog
interoperability channels at big parties. If we changed we couldn’t talk
to the neighbors over in Big Mountain County or to all our other
neighbors like we can now. If we pick one hundred thousand walnuts and
fix up our old-fashioned stupid plain vanilla analog radio system it
will work just fine. Why should we pick a whole two million
walnuts to get a shiny new system?”
“Because our radios are scratched up and all
dusty. Their shiny new super-duper radios are better because they are
super-duper and shiny and new. Crooked County and State of Insolvent use
them and we can be just like them. New is Always Better,” the Big Chief
The Chiefs invited the Slick-Salesman to a party
where the Slick-Salesman led some of the Bewildered Chiefs singing “New
is Always Better” songs. But old Chief Fuddyduddy didn’t sing along. He
asked the Slick-Salesman “Everyone thinks your radios are Far-Far-Awayian-made,
so just where do you make these shiny new radios?” The Slick-Salesman
told the Chiefs that there were lots and lots of tiny little extra parts
inside the shiny new radios, and that they were made in a distant
kingdom in the East where there were lots and lots of elves with tiny
little fingers. That way they could afford to put in all those tiny
little extra parts.
The silly old Chief frowned and his crew-cut
bristled. “He must not like elves with tiny fingers,” one of the other
“So,” Chief Fuddyduddy asked, “when one of those
tiny little extra parts break, can we send them to your castle here in
Far-Far-Away to get them all fixed up?”
“Our radios never break because they’re shiny
and new and perfect and special. But just in case a troll chews on one
or a dragon breathes fire on it, we have fixer-upper elves standing by.”
The Slick-Salesman suddenly had a sneezing fit, but Chief Fuddyduddy was
sure he heard something about all the fixer-upper elves working in a
distant southern kingdom.
That Arbor Day many of the Chiefs, the
Bewildered Council Members, and Hizzonner the Mayor’s PAC all got
wonderful walnut gifts from the Slick-Salesman’s cousin. Accepting
baskets of plain old walnuts wouldn’t be nice, but they all agreed that
accepting other walnut products was okey-dokey, so it was.
During the sales demo, all the Chiefs had to
agree that the shiny new system didn’t have even an itsy-bitsy hint of
static, although the voices sounded ... funny. Almost everyone started
singing “New is Always Better songs”. Old Chief Fuddyduddy didn’t laugh
at the funny voices and argued about the change, but the Bewildered Big
Chief held his breath and stomped his feet and pouted until got his way.
Halfway through the project, the Slick-Salesman
came to the Bewildered Chiefs and told them that there were itsy-bitsy
problems with their initial design. If they gave him another million
walnuts they could make it even more-better and only delay the project a
little, just a year or two. They had already spent two million walnuts
and the Slick-Salesman said it could be called an addition to an
existing contract. So remembering their wonderful walnut gifts they
agreed to the additions to make the shiny new system even more-better.
Just before the shiny new system was finished,
the Slick-Salesman came to the Chiefs and told them about a super-shiny
new-new radio that had just been introduced. It was even more-newer and
more-shinier and more-better than the radio already on the contract and
it let the Bewildered Dispatchers know how much battery life the new-new
radios had remaining. The new-new radios weren’t exactly on the
Insolvent State Contract, but the Slick-Salesman crossed his heart and
hoped to die and promised that the price was right because they were the
vendor Crooked County and the State of Insolvent always used.
Old Chief Fuddyduddy asked the Slick-Salesman
who else was using the new-new radios. The Slick-Salesman mumbled
something about the elves not building the new-new super-shiny radios
quite yet. But them his face brightened and he told the Chiefs that
everyone was getting them and the Super-Smart Engineers had all the bugs
worked out and they were new-new and more-better. Since the radios were
new-new and more-better and everyone was buying them and Super-Smart
Engineers are never wrong, the Chiefs agreed. Besides, it was really
only a million walnut addition to the existing contract and More-New is
Only thirteen moons later the new-new radios
arrived. During testing, they found that the extra data (knowing about
battery life was new and therefore must be important) overloaded the
channels and made the batteries run down quicker. The Slick-Salesman
said that they needed new channels and bigger batteries to support the
new, very important battery life data. New channels and bigger toys are
always better and besides, it was really only a million walnut addition
to the existing contract and New is Always Better.
Many, many, many moons later, the big day
arrived and the shiny new-new radios were given to the Indians for the
first time, and they marched out into the forest to arrest trolls and
squirt water on dragons. Their shiny radios were brand new and simply
had to be better. But there were some itsy-bitsy problems and the
central magical thingamabob crashed so often nobody could talk. So,
until the Super-Smart Engineers could fix the itsy-bitsy problem the
Chiefs and Indians went back to their stupid plain vanilla analog radio
system that worked perfectly two thirds of the time but had a little
static the other third.
Just to get by, the Chiefs picked three
hundred thousand walnuts from their emergency tree to fix up their
old-fashioned stupid plain vanilla analog radio system to make the nasty
static go away and sound just like the shiny new radios would. Old
Chief Fuddyduddy just shook his head, took early retirement, and moved
to a state with low taxes and a balanced budget.
Six moons later the Slick-Salesman said that new
super-duper firmware was ready and would only cost a few hundred
thousand extra walnuts to install. The Slick-Salesman told the Chiefs
that the vendor had Super-Smart Engineers and that new firmware was
always better and always fixed everything. When the radios were updated
the Indians could talk to each other with no static. But sometimes their
radios only played a beautiful bonking song or stayed blissfully quiet,
and they had trouble recognizing the other Indian’s voices. The
Dispatchers had more trouble understanding Mumbles the Brave, especially
when his faithful K-9 companion was barking.
The Slick-Salesman said that the Super-Smart
Engineers were almost done re-re-re-revising the perfect AN-TEEK codec.
The new re-re-re-revision would magically make Mumbles the Brave sound
like a rock star (as long as he always remembered to turn away so his
radio didn’t pick up his dog singing chorus, or other places, situations
or conditions as determined by the vendor at any later date as allowed
in the itsy-bitsy print incorporated by reference into Appendix Q-7013
of the initial contract).
The Indians still insisted on finding places
where the shiny new radios only worked when they stood on their left
foot during rush hour or on their right foot between midnight and 3AM,
and other places where they only played the pretty bonking song or
stayed blissfully quiet. The Slick-Salesman said that the Indians were
just being silly and they should stop finding those nasty places, but
maybe if the Chiefs put up one or two shiny new towers the Indians
wouldn’t need to stand on one foot to talk. Each new tower would only be
a quarter million walnut addition to the original contract. “But,” the
Slick-Salesman added, “New is Always Better.”
Many, many moons later, six shiny new towers
were built (more new is always more better that fewer new) and when it
worked the new system was almost as good as their stupid plain vanilla
analog radio system and didn’t have any static, ever.
But the silly Indians kept going to the places
where the shiny new radios only played the pretty bonking song or stayed
blissfully quiet. Lots of the Indians wanted to keep their stupid plain
vanilla analog radios handy too just in case, because they all new how
to make sense of static-y voices. The Chiefs said that were just being
silly, because New is Always Better and the shiny super-duper
re-re-re-revised AN-TEEK codec would do that for them.
One day Bewildered County had a big y’all come
party. They didn’t even plan it, it just happened and got super-big
super-fast. Their silly neighbors didn’t have shiny new radios but came
over to party and dance anyway. Since Bewildered County didn’t have
enough walnuts left to buy extra shiny new radios, the neighbors and
Bewildered Chiefs couldn’t talk to each other across the crowded dance
floor. The Insolvent Ministry of Magical Communications had plenty of
extra shiny new radios, and said they would be happy to bring them to
the party. Their Magicians would work at government-break-neck-speed and
be there sometime the next day. So in the mean time, the Chiefs had to
run home and find their old stupid plain vanilla analog radios so they
could talk to all the silly neighbors who didn't have their own shiny
new super-duper radios, but came from miles around to the party anyway.
It was so sad. One of the Insolvent Inspectors
was driving through Bewildered County while the Big Party was going on,
but he couldn’t hear about it. He even had a wagon full of Party
Inspectors and extra instruments. But since the Insolvent Ministry of
Magical Communications didn’t let his shiny new radio hear the wonderful
new Bewildered channel (listening to too many channels might damage
their ears), and had thoughtfully taken out his old-fashioned stupid
plain vanilla analog radio to make room in his horse-drawn wagon for a
backup parachute (you can’t ever be too safe!), the Insolvent Inspectors
didn’t even learn about the big Bewildered dance until they were at a
distant Inn watching the 11:00 Town Crier.
The next day, the Slick-Salesman told the
Bewildered Chiefs that if their silly neighbors got shiny new radios
too, they could invite them over and talk to them at big parties. The
Big Chief and the Slick-Salesman jumped in their carriage and drove over
the river and through the woods to see the old-fashioned Chief of
Prudent County. They told the old-fashioned Prudent Chief that their
shiny new radios were the latest thing, and that he needed shiny new
radios too so they could all party and dance together. “New is Always
Better” they chanted in chorus, as the Slick-Salesman slid his proposal
across the old-fashioned Chief’s desk with a grin, dreams of
sugar-plumbs dancing in his head.
The Slick-Salesman told the Prudent Chief the
shiny new radios only cost 5,000 walnuts apiece. “New is Always Better
and everyone is doing it,” repeated the Slick-Salesman, ‘so it has to be
right! We’ll write a grant proposal on behalf of all the Chiefs in
Prudent County and they'll give us wagonloads of someone else’s walnuts.
They grow on trees, you know. We'll even manage the grant walnuts for
The Prudent Chief exclaimed, ‘that’s a lot of
walnuts! But since most vendors can do the Far-Far-Away Department of
Kingdom Security Everything Must Work Together Standard I think I’ll ask
a second vendor to bid on shiny new radios also.”
“Oh, No!” exclaimed the Slick-Salesman. “You
can’t do that because our shiny new super-duper system handles super
important battery life data in a special way that is so special we don’t
let anyone else’s radios do it. We have more Brilliant Barristers and
Squinty-Eyed Walnut Counters than we have Super-Smart Engineers and they
all say the same thing. Besides, everyone knows that the other vendor’s
elves all have big fingers and can’t build radios properly!”
When the Prudent Chief found out that the new
super-duper system was so “special”, he offered to spend 10,000 walnuts
to put a dim-witted gizmo in his old-fashioned system so he could bridge
his stupid plain vanilla analog radios to the shiny new system in
Bewildered County. The Slick-Salesman said that wouldn’t work either
because the squinty-eyed accounts feared his stupid plain vanilla analog
radio traffic might hurt the ears of the Indians using the super-duper
shiny new system. “Besides,” the Big Chief added, “our Bewildered
Dispatchers wouldn’t be able to see how much battery life your stupid
plain vanilla analog radios have left.”
The old-fashioned Prudent Chief politely showed
the Slick-Salesman and Bewildered Big Chief to the door and kept on
using his stupid plain vanilla analog radio system that worked perfectly
two thirds of the time but had a little static the other third. The
old-fashioned Prudent Chief decided to have his Medicine Man re-program
his stupid old radios with all of the stupid plain vanilla analog
interoperable channels, got his Indians new antennas to reduce the
static, and spent the 10,000 walnuts on twenty shiny-new stupid plain
vanilla analog radios with extra batteries that he could loan to the
Bewildered Chiefs and Indians when they came over to party in Prudent
The Prudent Chief did accept an offer from the
Insolvent Ministry of Magical Communications for a few shiny new
super-duper radios so his Dispatchers and Big Chiefs could talk to
Bewildered County, the Big Department in Crooked County, the State of
Insolvent, and the Men from Far-Far-Away, just in case his Prudent
County fan ever started to turn brown.
After six moons of itsy-bitsy adjustments the
shiny new system in Bewildered County worked perfectly 80% of the time,
played that pretty bonking song 10% of the time and stayed blissfully
quiet the last 10% of the time. The bonks and silence always happened in
the silliest of places like down in a dungeon fighting dragons or when
chasing trolls through the forest or when everyone got all bothered and
excited. The Slick-Salesman said that 80% perfect was better that 66%
perfect. They would learn to like the beautiful bonking music or perfect
blissful silence instead of having to listen to imperfect voices with
that nasty static. Everything was all perfectly fine and dandy with the
Bewildered System because New is Always Better and all the other shiny
super-duper systems did the same thing. The Slick-Salesman crossed his
heart and promised that the vendor’s Super-Smart Engineers were working
A few weeks later, one of the Bewildered Indians
got a bad boo-boo because too many of the itsy-bitsy magical pieces got
all jumbled up bouncing through the trees and over the hills on the way
to his shiny new radio and it stayed blissfully quiet. The silly union
sued the Chiefs because they thought the shiny new system was hazardous
to the Indians' health. The Chiefs counter-sued because New is Always
Better and the perfect re-re-re-revised AN-TEEK codec used the latest
magical frog DNA to fill in any missing pieces. The ridiculous old judge
made the Chiefs switch back to the stupid plain vanilla analog radio
system that worked perfectly two thirds of the time but had a little
static the other third until the case was settled.
The Slick-Salesman told the Chiefs not to worry
“cause his super-Super-Smart Engineers were working on a super-new-new
system that let two sets of Indians talk on the same channel at the same
time, and because it was so super-new-new it would be even
more-more-better because everything in their rosy perfect world always
worked perfectly. The shiny super-new-new radios would also talk to the
stupid plain vanilla analog radios that the silly old-fashioned Chiefs
over in Prudent and Big Mountain Counties insisted on keeping. Each
super-new-new radio only cost 7,500 walnuts, but the Slick-Salesman
promised to give them a deal from the Insolvent State Contract.
Four years and seven million walnuts poorer,
some of the Bewildered Chiefs looked at their bare walnut trees and the
boxes of shiny new radios getting all dusty in the warehouse. They began
to wonder if that stupid plain vanilla analog radio system that worked
perfectly two thirds of the time but had a little static the other
third, and let them talk to all their silly neighbors wasn’t so bad
Posted on November 21st, 2010
For the past two years, officials from the cities in Charleston
County, South Carolina have been telling me about the horrific digital
radio issues they are experiencing. I haven’t previously written about
the specifics at the request of the city officials who are working
with the County to fix the problems.
Today an article was published
Charleston Post and Courier newspaper about the ongoing problems.
Reporter Glenn Smith did a lot of digging, but barely scratched the
surface of the magnitude of the problem. I encourage you to read
his article by
Charleston County purchased its digital trunked radio system from
Motorola in 2007 for approximately $17.5 million. The system
experienced problems from the start, but the issues became worse after
it was upgraded in 2008. Smith reports, “it became plagued with
lost transmissions, strange noises, volume issues and gaps in service
that have placed police, firefighters and civilians in jeopardy on
several occasions.” The County is now prepared to spend an
additional $12 million to have Motorola upgrade the system again.
A third phase, also expected to cost millions, will be discussed in
the upcoming budget year.
My theory is that Charleston County fell victim to Motorola’s
marketing strategy. It’s unlikely that Charleston County would
have initially funded the full amount necessary to purchase a radio
system with sufficient infrastructure to provide adequate radio
coverage. I believe Motorola sold the County enough equipment to
get the system on the air and lock the County into its proprietary
product line, knowing that coverage would be inadequate and
enhancements would be essential. Once the fledgling system was
installed, the County had no choice but to buy add-on equipment from
Motorola, without the benefit of competition from other manufacturers.
Motorola now has full control over pricing, contract terms, product
support life cycle and its proprietary variants that may prohibit
non-Motorola radios from being used on the system. This is
another example of brilliant marketing strategy, at the expense of
first responder safety and our tax dollars. Motorola has
positioned itself for a long-term revenue stream from the Charleston
County tax payers. Motorola can say “when” and “how much” while its
client has virtually no alternative but to pay.
Some documents indicate County officials were complicit in making
the decision to construct a radio system knowing that digital coverage
would be deficient. Why would County officials knowingly proceed
with a project that industry experts and the vendor knew would not
provide adequate coverage?
Please study this case in detail if you are involved in purchasing
a public-safety radio system and care about reliable radio
communication for first responders and being fiscally responsible with
Posted on December 18th, 2010
The City of San Jose (California) city council convened on December
14, 2010 to consider the City’s continued participation in a Bay Area
public safety broadband initiative known as BayWEB. This $50M+
experiment tentatively funded with Federal broadband stimulus money
has been marred in controversy since the Bay Area Urban Area Security
Initiative (UASI) staff arranged for an unethical partnership with
Motorola without oversight by any duly elected body.
Posted on December 12th, 2010
The most obvious impropriety at the Bay Area Urban Area Security
Initiative (Bay Area UASI) surrounds a $50+ million application for
Federal grant funding to construct a broadband data communications
network for public safety users. City of San Jose and County of
Santa Clara officials recognized the impropriety and took a firm
stance to expose and oppose the questionable business practices of Bay
Area UASI, the City and County of San Francisco and the County of
Posted on November 2nd, 2010
Evidence of corruption in the Bay Area UASI office headed by San
Francisco’s Laura Phillips continues to mount. Yesterday StimulatingBroadband.com
reported that the Santa Clara County Exec filed a formal request for a
Federal investigation. Details are available at StimulatingBroadband.com
Posted on October 23rd, 2010
The latest snag to hit the Bay Area’s troubled attempt to build a
Motorola 700 MHz LTE system for first responders involves serious
accusations about radio spectrum rights. It appears that Alameda
County Sheriff Gregory Ahern may have acted beyond the scope of his
authority in signing a spectrum lease agreement. San Jose
Mayor Reed says that he and his staff have been unable to find any
indication of Ahern’s authority to sign the documents.
Furthermore, it appears that some agreements related to “Project
Cornerstone” have been executed by government officials on behalf of
“make believe” entities that don’t legally exist.
The documents that
have been sent to me indicate strong evidence of political corruption
and conspiracy to commit fraud in the Bay Area.
Read more about the spectrum-rights issue in
Posted on September 29th, 2010
In August 2008 I first wrote about the appearance of impropriety at
the Bay Area SUASI headed by former Motorola employee Laura Phillips.
Today an in-depth article appeared in the online journal “StimulatingBroadband.com
that offers a more detailed examination of the magnitude of the
StimulatingBroadband.com 09/29/2010 San Francisco – The City of
San Francisco has produced what is fast becoming regarded as the most
controversial, problematic, and potentially illegal broadband stimulus
award under the entire $7.2 billion federal program.
The local selection process which resulted in Motorola, Inc. (MOT)
receiving a $50 million federal broadband stimulus grant on behalf of
public safety agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area reveals
questionable public procurement practices managed by the
administration of San Francisco Mayor
These problems are pointed to by the chief executives of the 2
largest governments in the region, as they call for suspension of the
federal project award. It appears however that neither of the 2
current reviews of the award, 1 federal and 1 state, is scoped or
resourced to examine the fundamental flaws evident in the selection
Click here to read the full article at
The following links are to my previous articles about impropriety
at the Bay Area SUASI.
fire departments in the U.S. have determined that digital radio
systems are not suitable for use on the fireground. One of the most
significant problems they have identified occurs when using digital
radios in noisy environments. The computer software in the radio that
converts the spoken word to digital data cannot adequately distinguish
between human voice and noise. The voice is masked by the noise much
worse than analog radios.
to this issue, the
International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)
Digital Problem Working Group (DPWG)
to provide expert input to the
National Institute of Standards and Technology
which conducted tests in concert with
NTIA to confirm
the problem and identify potential solutions. The results of the study
substantiated what the fire departments reported.
tests were specific to the noises that could be expected at the scene
of a fire or rescue incident, and focused on sounds from the following
Fire truck pump
Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) devices
I believe this
problem extends beyond the narrow scope of the noise sources that were
tested by NIST/NTIA. Why would this problem be limited to radios used
by firefighters and noises commonly heard at fire incidents? Similar
problems could occur for police officers using digital radios in the
Low to moderate
wind noise when a police officer is transmitting from a portable
including wind and rain when a police officer is transmitting from a
portable radio outdoors
when transmitting from a portable radio while standing outdoors next
to a busy freeway
from a mobile radio in a patrol car while a canine is barking loudly
in the back seat
transmitting from a handheld radio in the presence of a loud crowd
of people or when loud music is present, such as rock concert
transmitting from a mobile radio during a pursuit while siren noise
If you are
a police officer or dispatcher and have personally experienced
problems with digital radios in noisy environments,
please click here to tell me your story.
Links to IAFC,
NIST and NTIA documents related to the tests.
Digital Radio Noise Problem: Best
Fairfax, Va., June 21, 2007... The IAFC Digital Problem
Working Group is actively working to identify the causes and potential
solutions for the digital distortion some users of digital radio systems
have experienced in high-noise environments. The working group currently
has two task groups working on different aspects of the digital problem:
The Testing Task
Group is working with the National Institute of Standards and
Technology to identify scenarios to be tested in an effort to
objectively quantify the nature and scope of the problem and potential
Practices Task Group is working to identify procedural and technical
solutions departments may have successfully implemented to address the
The Best Practices Task Group is soliciting input from users of radio
systems that use digital modulation. The task group is interested in the
steps user agencies have taken to address audio distortion problems they
have experienced in high-noise environments. These practices may be:
adjustments to radio equipment
the use of
specific radio accessories that have been found to work well
minimizing or mitigating digital audio distortion
To submit a best practice online, go to
and click on the “Submit a best practice” button.
the Best Practices Task Group will forward the practices collected to
the Testing Task Group for validation and optimization.
information on the digital noise issue, visit the IAFC website at
Common Fireground Noise May Cause
Unintelligibility of Digital Radio Transmissions
Fairfax, Va., Mar. 20, 2007... The International
Association of Fire Chiefs is alerting its members to a potential issue
and soliciting their input to a solution. The IAFC has received reports
of firefighters experiencing unintelligible audio communications while
using a digital two-way portable radio when operating in close proximity
to the low-pressure alarm of their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
In addition, other common fireground noise, including powered tools,
apparatus and PASS devices, may affect voice intelligibility.
This is an
industry-wide issue and is not specific to any one manufacturer’s
radios. There are indications that any digital voice communication
product utilizing parametric voice encoders could be affected by this
problem. The IAFC does know the problem is not related to any specific
radio spectrum, as it is not a frequency of operation issue, or a
particular communication standard.
Due to these
reports, the IAFC board of directors has asked the Communications
Committee to form a working group to work with other IAFC committees and
sections and other appropriate organizations to investigate and provide
recommendations to address this concern. The specific focus of the group
will be to:
the facts and identify potential solutions that may be required.
industry collaboration among the communications equipment
manufacturers to explore options to mitigate or eliminate this
practices for digital portable radio use on the fireground.
The IAFC is asking you to contact the Communications Working Group if
you have experienced similar issues. Go to
to learn more about the tests you can conduct to provide the working
group the information it needs to study the issue and make
Your input is vital
to ensure that digital radio technology can be effectively utilized in
fireground applications. The IAFC fully understands that many fire
departments are using digital radio systems with success, but there may
be issues related to voice transmission being interfered with or
overridden when common fireground noise is in the background.
We appreciate your
assistance in testing your systems and reporting back to us.
Association of Fire Chiefs
The IAFC is
alerting its members to a potential issue and soliciting their input to
a solution. We have
received reports of firefighters experiencing unintelligible audio
communications while using a digital two-way portable radio when
operating in close proximity to the low-pressure alarm of their
self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Other common fireground
noise, including powered tools, apparatus and PASS devices, may affect
This is an
industry-wide issue and is not specific to any one manufacturer’s
radios. There are indications that any digital voice communication
product utilizing parametric voice encoders could be affected by this
problem. The IAFC does know the problem is not related to any specific
radio spectrum, as it is not a frequency of operation issue, or a
particular communication standard.
Due to these
reports, the IAFC board of directors has asked the Communications
Committee to form a working group to work with other IAFC committees and
sections and other appropriate organizations to investigate and provide
recommendations to address this concern.
If you have
experienced similar issues, the Communications Working Group needs to
hear from you.
Interoperability: Stop Blaming the Radio
by Ronald P. Timmons
An EXCELLENT white paper on the
dual problems of communications systems that fail during emergencies
the personal dynamics of the
failure of first responders to communicate properly during stressful
17 page .pdf:
A much longer (107
page) thesis from Mr. Timmons on why communications fail.
Concerns about inadequate radio
communications at the scene of disasters predate 9/11, and have been a
focal point of homeland security funding since 2001. Under the umbrella
term “interoperability,” grant funding is facilitating the recent
deployment of equipment to allow field personnel to patch radio systems
together, with the expectation of immediate improvement of emergency
scene communications dysfunction.
This thesis argues that there are
numerous causal factors for inadequate disaster communications.
Communications impediments include insufficient radio infrastructure,
behavioral reactions by people in stressful situations,
intergovernmental relations, inadequate procedures and training, and
general lethargy over the need to institute special operating policies
differing from routine practices.
The sole reliance upon
technological solutions, without proportionate training and practice
greatly reduces the effectiveness of radio patching equipment.
Quite opposite from the intended effect, patching equipment, in the
hands of those only minimally acclimated to radio system architecture,
is likely to trigger unintended consequences of chaotic system overload
(by combining two or more busy channels) and sector vulnerability (by
combining unsecured general public systems with previously isolated
public safety systems).
Our goal is to provide a
thought-provoking examination of the entire realm of emergency scene
communications issues and practical recommendations beyond superficial
107 page .pdf:
Emergency Services Incident Management System", or
How radios SHOULD work in the Fire Services.
Contact the N.F.P.A. for the most recent version of this
"Must Read" Article
SPECIAL REPORT -
United States Fire Administration - Technical Report Series
Another "Must Read" Article
Firefighter Radio Communications -
CHAPTER III: FIREFIGHTER COMMUNICATION ISSUES