Fulton County To Upgrade Police, Fire Radios
Don’t throw out your old police scanner, yet, but Fulton County is moving toward a new radio system that will make parts of it obsolete.
County officials are talking about spending $2.2 million, mostly covered by grant funds, to install a new 800- megahertz (Mhz) system that will work with a similar system operated by Lucas County.
Justin Thompson, county Emergency Management Agency director, said the new system will “spur off” Lucas County’s radio system, but Fulton County radio traffic would be independent of Lucas County.
The new system will make it easier for Fulton County fire, rescue, and police agencies to work with their counterparts in Lucas County.
The new system will be known as a “digital trunking” radio system.
The digital part indicates that police officer, rescue worker, and firefighter voices will be converted to digital zeros and ones before it’s transmitted over the air.
The current system, which older scanners can monitor, is an analog frequency-modulated (FM) system. The users voice modifies the radio wave before it’s transmitted.
An analog scanner cannot make sense of the zeros and ones of the digital signal.
Trunking is essentially a complex way to make a radio system behave like a much larger system.
It involves the use of a computer-like control system to assign radio users in particular groups to different frequencies, or channels, depending on the availability of channels within the system.
While the system is referred to as an 800 Mhz system, in fact, frequencies start in the 700 Mhz range; some call it a 7-800 system.
The county’s current radio system is called a VHF (very high frequency) band. Frequencies are in the 150 Mhz range.
Currently, the Fulton County Sheriff channel operates from an FM repeater located on a tower next to the Fulton County Health Center.
The repeater expands the range of a radio by receiving an officer’s signal, and retransmitting it over a large distance.
Other radios use a simplex, which is one radio transmitting to another. Range can be limited.
Thompson said the goal of new digital trunking system is for police officers, rescue workers, and firefighters to have portable radios clipped to their belts, and be able to talk to another system user, from anywhere in the county to anywhere in the county.
He said the Motorola Corporation, which makes the equipment used in the system, has maps which show about 95% of the county is covered by a Motorola 800 Mhz network.
There may be areas or dead zones where there is no 800 coverage. More equipment may be added to fill in those areas, he said.
Another goal of the system is interoperability.
As a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington D.C., it was discovered police and fire radio systems were incompatible and unable to inter-operate.
The federal government has been pushing for public service agencies to move to systems that will interoperate.
By tapping into the Lucas County system, Fulton County will be able to work with Lucas County easier.
In the future, Thompson said Fulton County’s 800 Mhz system could tie in with MARCS, Ohio’s Multi-Agency Radio Communications System.
MARCS has statewide coverage. With a properly programmed radio, any MARCS user, anywhere in Ohio, can essentially talk with any other MARCS users anywhere in Ohio.
But MARCS has a per-radio monthly subscriber fee to use the system. There is no subscriber fee for the system Fulton County is considering.
Planning for the new radio system has been underway for a year or more.
Martin Schmidt, Archbold police chief, said he has been involved in the planning for the new radio system.
Andy Brodbeck, Archbold Fire Department chief, said the new system won’t help him interoperate with Williams and Henry Counties.
Williams County operates three different radio systems: a VHF system for law enforcement, a UHF system for EMS, and a UHF digital trunking system for fire.
Brodbeck said AFD has two handheld radios for the Williams County fire system.
Henry County is using an analog FM system like Fulton County’s current system.
The current VHF system still has its uses, and will not be abandoned.
For example, the trunking system can’t transmit the electronic tones used to set off individual firefighter pagers, so VHF will still have a use there.
And AFD will still need VHF to talk with Henry County.
At least for the time being, that will mean fire departments and police vehicles will be equipped with two radios: a VHF radio and an 800 Mhz radio.
“It will take time to get us all initiated. It will be a learning experience for all of us,” Brodbeck said. –David Pugh