UNION — Several county fire departments will get some help from the county in making their transition to the new narrowband system of radio communication.
In 2006, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated that all non-federal public safety licensees operating 25 kHz (wideband) radio systems in the VHF and UHF bands must migrate to 12.5 kHz (narrowband) emissions on or before Jan. 1, 2013.
The Union County Sheriff’s Office, which is over the county’s emergency communications systems, has been working toward a transition to narrowband since 2009.
The transition to narrowband will reduce radio coverage in Union County by 10-15 percent. To cope with this, council voted to purchase and install satellite units at the top and bottom of six existing towers throughout the county to provide coverage in 100 percent of the county.
Council also authorized the lease/purchase a wireless broadband system designed to transport the incoming transmissions to the main tower site. The county is also negotiating lease pricing on the properties which will contain the satellite receivers.
In a briefing to council earlier this year, Sheriff David Taylor said the satellite units had to be in place by Jan. 1, 2013 or there would no coverage for the Carlisle, Lockhart, Cross Keys, and Jonesville areas of the county. If those units were not in place by that time, Taylor said his deputies, firefighters and EMS personnel would not be able to communicate in those areas.
After hearing from Taylor, council approved a lease-purchase agreement with Motorola for the required equipment in an amount not to exceed $805,828.
On Tuesday, approved the commitment of additional county resources to acquiring the equipment needed for the transition to narrowband.
Council voted unanimously to allot up to $15,000 to assist several county fire departments with the purchase of radios for their vehicles which can be converted to narrowband use.
“You don’t buy narrowband radios, instead you buy radios that are capable of being converted to a more narrow band,” Supervisor Tommy Sinclair said. “Some of the older radios could not be converted so we are assisting the fire departments in acquiring narrowband capable radios for their vehicles.”
Speaking on behalf of the Union County Firefighters Association Tuesday evening, Jonesville Police Chief Jimmy Wilkins reported to council on the progress the county’s fire departments have made in adapting to narrowband.
Wilkins said that at his department and the Bonham and Southside fire departments all but seven — on at Jonesville and three each at Bonham and Southside — of the radios in their vehicles could be programmed for narrowband.
He said the three departments have since replaced those radios with new ones that can be programmed for narrowband and completed the transition process.
Wilkins said a total of 18 radios are needed at the county’s other fire departments. He said the radios cost $375 each, including programming.
Sinclair said the narrowband mandate of the federal government is not only affecting emergency responders like the fire departments, but all county communications.
“It doesn’t just affect public safety, even the radios in our public works vehicles have to be converted,” Sinclair said. “Even the one in my car had to be converted. They converted it last week.”
Sinclair also cautioned that the conversion the county is currently undergoing will probably not be the last it will have to undergo, because it is likely that even narrower banding of communications will take place in the future.
“It used to be that you could broadcast across a very wide spectrum, across very broadbands,” Sinclair said. “With more and more people using radio communications the bands you can broadcast across are going to continue to narrow. We are only at the beginning of this narrowbanding process.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.