Allegheny County, municipal agencies get new FCC deadline for radio upgrades
By Stacy Lee
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 4:56 a.m.
The Federal Communications Commission mandated that all of its licensees switch to narrowbanding by Jan. 1, but Allegheny County and some municipal police agencies still are working on the changeover.
“The migration from wideband to narrowband is so that more frequencies can be issued by the FCC,” county Chief of Emergency Services Alvin Henderson Jr. said. “Any time we need a frequency, we make an application and pay the associated license fees to the FCC.”
He said 75-80 percent of the county's radio infrastructure has been narrowbanded. The rest have until June 30 under an FCC extension.
“We had to put together an operational plan that demonstrated we are in the process of doing this,” Henderson said, explaining that extenuating circumstances prevented a complete switch in time for the mandated deadline.
An FCC spokeswoman said commission staff are reviewing and processing a large number of applications that were filed around Jan. 1.
Narrowbanding requires license holders to operate on channels of 12.5 kHz or less. That means having equipment capable of transmitting at least one voice channel per 12.5 kHz, or that can support a minimum data rate of 4,800 bits per second per 6.25 kHz.
Henderson cited the unavailability of enough equipment and technicians as reasons for the delay in conversion. He said coordination with tower site owners and tower climbers has taken time.
He said some of the county's equipment was reprogrammed for narrowband operation.
Of the Mon Valley municipalities that have their own dispatching service, North Versailles and West Mifflin made the switch last year.
West Mifflin Mayor Chris Kelly said the borough's topography is not conducive to narrowband broadcasting.
“We need to tweak (the equipment) a little more and put up additional satellites so we can all communicate,” he said.
Munhall has not made the change.
“We have to get two new satellites up and running before we can do it,” police Chief Pat Campbell said.
Municipalities must update radios that are not capable of narrowbanding. Whitaker and West Homestead purchased equipment for an ultra high frequency conversion and are waiting for delivery.
Henderson said county 911 strongly recommends that police, fire and EMS agencies on its channels update to the ultra high frequency platform of 450-512 megahertz.
“We're trying to get to a common UHF platform board,” he said.
Henderson said various agencies throughout the county are on different UHF and very high frequency megahertz ranges.
“With the events of Sept. 11 and with the onset of the national incident management system, interoperable communications was an area to be focused on nationwide,” he said.
Henderson said that, because so many county agencies were on the UHF platform of 450-512, it made sense to require other agencies to make the change so that multiple agencies can communicate clearly in a major emergency.
“We do have equipment that takes different bandwidths and ties them electronically together, but it's not the cleanest of communication,” he said, noting the area's hills and valleys make that process challenging.
West Mifflin and Munhall police are on VHF and do not plan to switch to UHF anytime soon.
“We're staying VHF unless my council tells me we're switching to Allegheny County 911,” Campbell said.
Homestead, West Homestead and Whitaker police use Munhall's radio equipment even though the three are dispatched through county 911.
“Munhall granted Allegheny County 911 the ability to dispatch on their channel,” Henderson said.
Duquesne police have their own channel.
Henderson said Allegheny County 911 is working with Duquesne, Homestead, West Homestead and Whitaker to upgrade to a UHF platform.
“We want to maintain them on a county-owned UHF channel,” he said. “We'll maintain that channel and it won't cost the municipalities.”
West Homestead and Whitaker ordered radios to make the UHF change, so that they can be narrowbanded on a county UHF channel or stay with Munhall's frequency.
Homestead police Chief Jeff DeSimone said the department's VHF radios are compatible with narrowbanding, but they have to wait for Munhall to update its equipment.
He said the department plans to move to UHF when it has funds to purchase new radios for better communication with the county.
“It's an issue of public safety,” DeSimone said. “It's an issue of officer safety. If that's the way we're going, it is the way we have to go.”
He said he budgeted $30,000 to purchase the equipment htis year, but the final budget did not include the funds.
Campbell said Munhall purchased UHF radios for all police vehicles in addition to the VHF radios so that its officers can communicate with neighboring boroughs when they switch to that frequency. Kelly said West Mifflin police have the ability to cross-patch.
Duquesne police Chief Richard Adams said police radios and equipment are narrowbanded.
“We're still on VHF,” he said. “We bought brand new radios about six months before the mandate came out.”
Adams said he doesn't see the department changing to UHF in the immediate future.
North Versailles police have been on UHF for about 30 years.
“We were one of the first ones to go to it many years ago,” Chief Vincent DiCenzo Jr. said.
Henderson said most agencies with county 911 have migrated to the UHF platform.
“We've already seen the benefits of enhanced communication in units going to that,” he said.
Fire organizations and EMS agencies were mandated by the FCC to narrowband, and the county requested that they move to UHF.
Stacy Lee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Community group to preserve Dravosburg cemetery’s history
- McKeesport man wanted in shooting nabbed in Elizabeth Township
- McKeesport crews prep for new KaBOOM! playground
- McKeesport student to celebrate Jackie Robinson’s legacy
- Oakmont father-son team’s efforts help add Mon Valley names to police memorial
- Serra Catholic High School friary to house foreign students
- 5 Operation Pork Chop defendants sentenced to 5 years probation
- 2 key Operation Pork Chop defendants delay pleas
- Parole denied for man convicted in 1997 slaying of 14-month-old
- East Allegheny board to take time to evaluate oil, gas agreement with EQT Production Co.
- 73-home subdivision plan approved for Westwood Golf Club