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It turns out, nobody currently makes scanners for the county's new emergency radio system

A $10.8 million upgrade to the county's emergency radio system is expected to greatly improve the reliability and efficiency of emergency communication, but the unintended consequence is that citizens, off-duty first responders and the media could all be in the dark for months or longer once the new system is fully operational.

It's a bit of a surprise to everybody involved, but the new technology being installed by Rochester-based Harris RF is incompatible with even the most advanced consumer scanners currently on the market.

And when new scanners are released -- perhaps as early as the first part of the year -- they are likely to cost as much as $500 to $600 each.

Sheriff Gary Maha is a big believer in the idea that citizens with scanners help solve crimes.  Clearly, when he spoke with The Batavian in the spring about the new radio system, he didn't anticipate the new technology would be incompatible with existing digital/trunking scanners.

"We're few and far between out there," Maha said. "We need all the eyes we can possibly have. If we have a bank robbery, we put that information out over the air so some citizen down the road may see the vehicle we want and can call 9-1-1. It's a benefit to us to have the people out there watching. They're our eyes and ears out there."

In recent weeks, we've had discussions with Maha about the situation and he said he's interested in finding a solution.

Getting scanners into the hands of media outlets is one thing. One solution that's been used in other parts of the country is for local law enforcement to lease emergency radios, with the outgoing transmission capability disabled, to news outlets. These radios cost in the neighborhood of $4,000 each, so it's still an expensive solution.

Another solution is putting streaming feeds of emergency transmissions from the P25 system on the county's Web site. But it's unclear at this point if the county has the available bandwidth or necessary technology to make this happen.

A Web-based solution would help both media outlets and make transmissions available to all county residents who care to tune in.

The Sheriff along with Undersheriff William Sheron met yesterday with executives at Harris.

Sheron said that Harris indicated it's a problem beyond the scope of their work, but said they are aware of other jurisdictions doing exactly what the Sheriff is considering.

"We're certainly aware of the issue and are interested in finding a solution," Sheron said.

Genesee County isn't the only jurisdiction facing this issue, as more and more agencies switch to the new technology and RadioReference.com's forums are filled with discussions about the situation.

What The Batavian has been able to piece together from the forum posts as well as interviewing Gerry Oliver, owner of G&G Communications in Le Roy, is that:

  • A company called GRE America made a radio that was designed to be compatible with Phase II technology, but the company went out of business. Its radio was imperfect technology and needed improvements and wouldn't necessarily work with Harris RF communication systems. BRS Phase II TDMA radios can be found on Ebay, but you take your chances buying one.
  • A company, The Whistler Group, Inc., has acquired GRE's intellectual property and is planning to enter into the scanner business. It didn't specifically announce a Phase II scanner, but presumably they'll bring one to market, perhaps before the end of March.
  • Representatives from Uniden have dropped hints in Radio Reference that the company -- which is the largest manufacturer of scanners -- is close to announcing a Phase II scanner. Estimates of when it will go to market range from fiscal Q1 2014 through the end of 2014.
  • Oliver believes that even after the switch-over, fire dispatch will remain on channel 4612, which means scanners currently programmed to pick up that channel will still be able to hear the fire dispatcher. There just won't be any chatter from emergency responders in the field answering the calls for people still listening on old scanners.

Radio Reference is an organization of ham radio operators and scanner enthusiasts. Through RF, volunteers from around the nation make their local emergency communications available on the radioreference.com Web site. Every smartphone app that allows people to listen to police and fire calls on their iPhones and Droids uses RR feeds, so if RR doesn't have working Phase II scanners, then those apps won't work for P25 jurisdictions.

Harris officials would not comment for this story.

The county has until March 1 to stop using one of its current 800 mhz channel so that the bandwidth becomes available for an inter-operable communication channel for federal Homeland Security.

Steven Sharpe, director of emergency communication, said installation begins next month, but current scanners will work on existing emergency channels until the P25 infrastructure is in place and operational.

Migration to the new system for emergency users should begin in December.

Beyond that the schedule of the transition depends on other factors -- from FCC licensing to tower crew availability -- though all equipment is scheduled to be installed by Feb. 1, giving the county one month to meet the 800 mhz channel deadline.

What happens at that point largely depends on what the county can make available to citizens and media for monitoring emergency transmissions, and what Whistler and Uniden make commercially available for purchase.

Oliver said there are a lot of people concerned about the issue, and people should be concerned.

"This is a public safety issue and it's a public information issue," Oliver said. "There's the average listener who pays taxes and thinks they have a right to listen in, but there's also the issue of firemen, off-duty police officers and EMTs -- how are they going to listen?

"I hope there's a solution for safety sake," he added. "Let's say I'm an (off duty) EMT and I live down the street from a call, a scanner might tell me, do I respond? What should I do if I hear nobody's responding? Those are the people who need scanners."

alvin tufts
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Buy a roll of duct tape. Tape a speaker of the new system to the microphone of the old system. Repeat for the most common channels. Problem solved everyone can still use there old scanners.

dennis wight
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simulcast on lower frequencies, is it really that difficult. We set up a "patch" so Mercy flight (using a lower freq.) can communicate with firefighter's 800mhz radios. Was this funded by a grant from Dept of Homeland Security to purchase a radio system that no citizenry can listen to??

Jamie Lindsley
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What's the frequency, Kenneth?

tom hunt
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Dennis, the artilce states that the 800Mhz band has to be vacated by 1 March so that the storm troopers from Homeland Security can use it. It seems just like yesterday that the digital truck spread spectrum system was the here all and end all for Genesee County.

Mary E DelPlato
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lol 2 all the waste! its bs....lol at Alvins comment...oh no they have to have the very best. Didnt they all ready do an update?????oh what happened? they screwed it up????dumbasses...

Destin Danser
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To those (mary) stating that the new system is a waste, and not needed.. Have you missed Howard's previous posts on the subject?

There are currently dead spots in the county where portable radios for emergency services personnel DO NOT WORK. This means that they cannot communicate with dispatch or other responding units. This means that (god forbid) something like west Webster happens here and a first responder comes under fire once on scene, they wouldn't be able to call for help, or to tell other responders to stay back. Having dead spots in an emergency radio system can literally cost people their lives. There is no amount of money too large to save the life of a first responder, sorry.

Dave Olsen
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I don't believe there is any guarantee that the dead spots will be fixed with the new system

david spaulding
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who said there are " dead spots" and where are they? the government tell you that? if they did and you believe them, then for you i'm sorry...how have the first responders made it this far with dead spots?...your first responders have 2 way radios, cell phones,and lap top computers, as far as i'm concerned that's enough, if it is not, stay out of the dead spots................

Scott Blossom
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Since I am in the East Battalion, I could point out spots in Bergen, Leroy, and Pavilion.

There have been times while in a dead spot, command would switch to "conventional" non trunked channel which is line of sight, to someone out of the dead zone to relay to dispatch. Not very quick, efficient, or safe.

Some of these dead zones don't have cellular coverage either, so that blows that idea out of the water. And what are they supposed to do with a laptop? Law enforcement has them but what good are they if you don't have a signal? Duh!

And the dumbest statement of all, "stay out of the dead spots"! Really? So no fires, illnesses, accidents, traffic stops, or crimes are allowed in dead zones. You better go knocking on everyone's door and let them know about your new rule.

Hope you don't need help in a dead zone.

Dave Olsen
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Yeah David, that's me all right, boy you got me pegged, I just take the government's word for everything, I'm one of them sheeple you guys are always talking about.
Clueless much? sounds like it

Dave Olsen
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Even with the added towers, Howard I bet there will still be dead spots. I don't think this thing was researched very well, reminds me of 1992 when the latest and greatest 800Mhz million dollar system was forced on all the volunteer companies without a whole bunch of research. There are so many commercial communication systems available that work far better, But no we have to have this one because it's secure supposedly. It's Deja Vu all over again.

Mark Brudz
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So basically what you are saying is that the car wreck with serious injury, or the house fire in one of those dead zones is SOL? I just want to be clear that is what you are saying dave.

Mary E DelPlato
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cb radios dont get dead spots ...new technology gets it....use verizon lol....make way for new technology!

Mary E DelPlato
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will these new towers interfere with my cell phone signal where illl be unable to call 911??? lmao

Lincoln DeCoursey
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I think it's better to invest in something on the cutting edge than to sink more money into another aging system. A lot has been spent on communications upgrades with the aims of having good coverage & inter-agency interoperability and I think it's safe to assess that these goals have proven to be elusive. Project 25 is something that the feds have been using & pushing with their grant dollars, and Phase 2 is the latest in P25, so hopefully the system will work well for Genesee County. I'm surprised but glad to hear that the sheriff is standing behind public access to these feeds. I'd always assumed this would become more and more difficult and eventually impossible starting with the move to trunking.

Lincoln DeCoursey
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Howard perhaps you could crowdfund a scanner using a commitment to put the feed online. RadioReference depends on hobbyists within reception range to supply the feeds. Duplicate feeds are not accepted so with any emerging radio signal, there's a race to see who will provide the feed and there's some notoriety and sense of accomplishment from being the person who is doing so. This would require that you commit to leaving the scanner stationary and hooked to a PC but especially if you get a base unit as opposed to a handheld, this wouldn't be a big sacrifice. You could always listen via the Internet feed from anywhere & augment with a handheld for the road / home once they become affordable.

Ed Hartgrove
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Dead spots? So, if the 'brighter minds' out there can answer, what if you live in one of these 'dead spots' and are ordered to wear an ankle bracelet? Does this mean that the authorities would have no idea where you were?
Just asking!

Mark Brudz
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Ankle bracelots are monitored by Sattelite, not the radio system Ed

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