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  1. #1
    Forum Member FiftyOnePride's Avatar
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    Default Communication Problems: Philly and elsewhere.



    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Firefighters Battle New Threat to Public Safety



    Philadelphia Inquirer via Associated Press

    In some of the city's most heavily populated neighborhoods - Center City, Grays Ferry and University City - cell-phone signals have blocked radio communication for firefighters at the scene of fires, department officials confirm.

    No firefighter has been injured as a result of radio problems, but union representatives for firefighters say the risks are too great.

    A blocked radio signal, which makes a "bonking" sound, "is the sound of death," said David Kearney, a Philadelphia paramedic and officer for Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

    Interference from cell phones on the 800-megahertz (MHz) band of the radio-frequency spectrum is a problem confronting firefighters, police, and emergency medical workers across the country.

    Fire and police units in Philadelphia suburbs such as Upper Merion and East Norriton have complained of cell-phone interference. In New Jersey, state police have received reports of interruptions in every part of the state.

    Last month, the Federal Communications Commission proposed moving all cell-phone carriers to one end of the 800-MHz band and all public-safety users to the other.

    But any agreement would need the approval of Nextel Communications Inc. of Reston, Va., the largest commercial user of frequencies in the 800-MHz range. The plan calls for Nextel to acquire a new band of spectrum worth $4.8 billion. In return, the company would have to pay to reconfigure public-safety signals in the 800-MHz range.


    Nextel is reviewing the FCC proposal, said Leigh Horner, a company spokeswoman.

    Any plan, however, would take up to three years to put in place. In the meantime, Philadelphia firefighters have filed a steady number of complaints about interference.

    At a house fire in Grays Ferry on June 27, for example, a fire chief who could not get through to crews via radio had to resort to yelling commands to firefighters inside, eyewitnesses said.

    Lloyd Ayers, the city's acting fire commissioner, said his department was aware of the interference problems and was working with cell-phone carriers to find solutions.

    "It's a big concern," Ayers said. "We're doing what we can to assure we have a remedy for this."

    The Fire Department's Motorola 800-MHz radio system was installed in October 2002, replacing an outdated 150-MHz network. Both the Fire and Police Departments are hooked up to the Motorola system, which cost the city $54 million.

    Cell-phone interference was not a problem with the old system because there were no cell-phone carriers operating on the 150-MHz band. But with the 800-MHz band, cell-phone signals are bumping up against public-safety channels.

    City and fire officials say Nextel and Cingular Wireless are the suspected culprits. The city has hired technical experts to verify signal interference and to pinpoint which cell-phone carrier could be to blame.

    Spokeswomen for Cingular and Nextel said their companies were cooperating with city officials.

    Part of the problem is that city officials do not know where cell-phone towers are located, and companies hold that information close to the vest.

    As a result, a firefighter making a call at an 850-MHz frequency might unknowingly be standing under a cell-phone antenna transmitting at 851 MHz. One signal could block the other.

    Temporary fixes - such as adjusting frequencies or realigning towers - are neither reliable nor permanent, said Robert Gurss, director of legal affairs for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials.

    "Even if you know how to fix it, you can't go through that process every time you have an interference problem," Gurss said. "It's a dangerous approach. You're chasing problems after they occur, and one of these days someone's going to die as a result."

    Kearney, of the firefighters' union, said cell-phone interference is just one of many problems that first responders have found with the city's new radio system.

    Kearney, who is tracking radio complaints for Local 22, said members had reported losing signals inside high-rises, warehouses, tunnels, elevators and basements. Communication into deep or dense sites such as Center City towers was a problem with the old radio system, and Kearney said the new radios have not alleviated the situation.

    At a three-alarm high-rise fire on June 28, 2003, at 1919 Chestnut St., Kearney said, commanders in the lobby lost touch with firefighters on upper floors. Kearney, who was on duty that night, said a runner had to be sent to the 29th floor to tell firefighters to switch to the department's old radio system, which was still effective inside the high-rise.

    Fire officials said they suspected cell-phone interference may have played a role in lost communication that day.

    John McFadden, the sales vice president for Motorola who handles the Philadelphia contract, said the emergency radio system covers 95 percent of the city.

    He said such factors as the number of high-rise buildings in an area or the amount of metal in a structure can block a radio signal.

    "There's no such thing as 100 percent radio coverage," McFadden said. "There are always going to be dead spots."

    Philadelphia police have not reported the same interference trouble as fire units. One reason could be that police units can move around more readily to get out from a blocked signal, according to Charles Brennan, deputy police commissioner in charge of technology.

    The Police Department, however, has had problems of its own. On three occasions - March 25, May 18 and Aug. 18 - the radio system was either shut down for a few seconds or failed to activate all channels, Brennan said.

    Philip R. Goldsmith, Philadelphia's managing director, said the new radio system is better than the old, mismatched systems for police and fire. He said that, for the first time, fire and police units can talk directly on the same channels. Also, the new system provides more-thorough coverage of the city.

    But Goldsmith said the city is holding Motorola responsible for determining why the system has been hampered by occasional glitches.

    "We still know there's an issue and still know that Motorola cannot say with certainty, 'We found what is causing this, case closed.' "

    Story from www.firehouse.com


    Am I over reacting in being upset that these dead spots, which are being called the "sound of death", would be fixed without the approval of Nextel?

    Why should it be pending their approval if it is possibly risking the lives of emergency personnel.?

    Perhaps I am over reacting, but that is why I brought it here, so lets here what everyone has to say.



    Edit: Crossing my T's and dotting my I's!
    Last edited by FiftyOnePride; 09-09-2004 at 09:54 PM.
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  2. #2
    Forum Member nmfire's Avatar
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    Default

    Why? Because NexTel has more money than god and just buys whatever decision would benfit them the most. It is total bull and shouldn't have happened in the first place. The FCC screwed it up. NexTel played along knowing full well they were causing major interference problems. Now that NexTel and public safety are both well established and "legal" on their frequencies, no single one of them can easily move.

    As for the building thing: Duh. Of course it doesn't work in tunnels and sub-basements. It isn't supposed to. Thats what concrete and rebar do. And NFPA specificly prohibits the use of a trunking talkgroup for interior firefighting. They require a simplex tactical channel which is not dependent on a computer controlled radio system. There is a good reason for this, basicly the entire article above.
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

  3. #3
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    Default 800mhz. Mess

    Northern New Castle County Delaware - Same type of problems...We're having more and more issues - Just like gambling..You take a chance of not being herd when you key up. Just like Philly Nex-tel is the problem in our area {New Castle County is about 25 miles to the south of Philadelphia. - We get promises that it'll be fixed but since it the system came along.

  4. #4
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    nm -

    What is the number of the NFPA standard that prohibits a digital talkgroup for interior firefighting? All the digital trunked systems I am familiar with use digital talkgroups with a simplex backup if the digital signal 'honks out'. If there is a specific prohibition, I would really appreciate the reference.

    Thanks.

  5. #5
    Forum Member nmfire's Avatar
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    NFPA 1221
    Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems

    6-3.1.3: A simplex radio channel shall be provided for on-scene tactical communications.

    6-3.4.1.26: Trunked radio system talkgroups shall not be used to fulfill the requirement for the provision of a simplex radio channel for on-scene tactical communications.

    I guess I shouldn't say you CAN'T use a talkgroup. It is discouraged and you are required to have a simplex channel so as you don't have to use a talkgroup. I don't know about you, but I don't want to key my mic to say I just fell through the floor and hear the "your screwed" bonk indicating the system is busy or out of range. The same goes for a conventional repeater unless you know you are within range of a receiver from inside the building. At least you can't get the "busy bonk" with that.

    There are 37 pages of this stuff in NFPA 1221. It covers EVERYTHING.
    Last edited by nmfire; 09-11-2004 at 05:07 PM.
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

  6. #6
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    Default FCC problem

    I agree with the thought that the FCC messed up with this one.

    Illegal devices I think are also creating problems here. And I think that the symptoms that Philly are seeing are consistent with these devices

    See: http://www.globalgadgetuk.com/Personal.htm

    And: http://www.netline.co.il/

    Because there are a few among us that are so rude as to bring a cell phone and not turn it off or put it in vibrate mode, in Church or in a movie house or theater, some of these places are now putting cell phone blocking devices in their establishments. These blocking devices block all cell phone frequencies including 800 MHz. Gee what type of systems have most of our new digital radio systems been working on? YUP, you got that right. An unintended result of placing cell phone frequencies and emergency services frequencies right next to each other. Thanks FCC! Yeah I know that these devices are not legal, but didn't ya think that this would be the end result?

    I'll bet that once they start looking for these devices in areas where Philly and others are having problems then they will find them. One of the devices from the Israeli site above will block cell phone signals (read 800 MHz fire/police radios) for 3 kilometers!

  7. #7
    Forum Member nmfire's Avatar
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    Those are not the problem. Using them WOULD screw it up, but that is not what's causing the problems in Philly and other places.
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

  8. #8
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    Okay, why not?

  9. #9
    Forum Member nmfire's Avatar
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    This was a problem long before the advent of those stupid things. Plus it happens in places where you would never find them used anyway. This is a system that was designed with flaws and obviously has some serious deficiancies in the technical department as well. They had another big *** failure not long ago as well.
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

  10. #10
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    Default Problems long ago

    I agree that there are some problems with 800, but for the most part some of the dead spots that are now cropping up in Philly weren't there when they first put the system in service.

    I would also suggest that the use of this technology has been available for at least the last four years. Philly's fire dept. system hasn't been in service longer than a year. So it is quite possible that blockers can and do play a part in the problems that they might be experiencing.

    You can find these devices anywhere. They can be as small as a cell phone and carried in your pocket. Therefore they can be employed anywhere you can carry one. Even churches in Mexico are using them. So tell me where in Philly are you suggesting that they couldn't be found?

    A stationary one that is made and sold by an Israeli firm can block frequencies as far as three kilometers.

    By the way these devices in the US are illegal.

    There may be some other problems with the digital trunked systems which Philly uses and time will tell what those concerns are, but the dead spots and the reception problems in some buildings could be explained by these type of devices.

  11. #11
    Forum Member nmfire's Avatar
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    Sigh. Ok, believe what you want. I'm not going to argue about this further than this post. If these things were the root of the problem, it would have been found out long ago. These problems are the same ones experienced by many other places where again, these things have nothing to do with it. They know why it doesn't work in certain places. They just aren't spending the money to fix it and Motorola has an ego that is too big to admit there are problems. Same story over and over every time.
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

  12. #12
    55 Years & Still Rolling hwoods's Avatar
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    Thumbs down Blame The Press......................... ...

    As Usual, the press quoted out of context AGAIN. As the Legislative Chairman of the Maryland Fire Chief's Association, I have been involved in the 800mhz interference issue for some time now. NexTel is NOT waiting to approve anything, the approval deal is tied up at the FCC. Starting several years back, Nextel, the IAFC, the IAFF, the National Sheriffs Association, the National Association of Chiefs of Police, APCO, and others, started to work on what became known as the "Consensus Plan". Other Cellular Operators were upset and started an opposing group. Today ALL other cell phone operators have dropped their opposing views EXCEPT Verizon corp. Verizon continues to stir the pot, instead of coming up with a better plan. This, in my opinion, is not about the Safety of our Fire and Police crews, but rather about Verizion's Bottom Line I'll be back with more
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