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Campus safety modifies two-way radio system

A Jan. 25 police incident highlighted issues with modification to its radio system. Due to a change in efficiency standards, Campus Safety Services was contacted by the Federal Communications Commission approximately two years ago regarding new requirements for their two-way mobile radio system. The requirements were referred to as “mandatory narrowbanding” and required all licensees… Read more »

A Jan. 25 police incident highlighted issues with modification to its radio system.

Due to a change in efficiency standards, Campus Safety Services was contacted by the Federal Communications Commission approximately two years ago regarding new requirements for their two-way mobile radio system.

The requirements were referred to as “mandatory narrowbanding” and required all licensees of privately operated mobile radio systems in the VHF and UHF spectrum bands to convert their existing wideband systems to narrowband operation, according to information distributed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Municipal Signal Association.

This adjustment would allow systems to operate on channel bandwidths of 12.5 kHz rather than the current 25 kHz, opening up land mobile bands and lessening interferences.

The modification required any equipment not capable of operating on channels of 12.5 kHz or less to be replaced by Jan. 1, 2013.

“In order to do that, [we] didn’t have to go to digital but it would be like having an old car and fixing it to help it pass inspection,” Charles Leone, deputy director of Campus Safety Services, said. “But you still have the old car and you can’t do much with it other than what you have. Everyone’s going to digital, so we decided to go to digital as well.”

This process cost CSS approximately $250,000, from the department’s budget.

Despite the cost, Leone and Carl Bittenbender, director of CSS, ultimately decided the switch was worth it, as using a digital system allows for better penetration in buildings, better coverage and creates opportunity to utilize added features, like the new system’s emergency panic button and GPS.

But many people wonder if this GPS interferes with the radio and causes it not to perform well, Leone said.

A Jan. 25 incident on the 1800 block of North 16th Street involving two Temple Police officers struggling to arrest a 19-year-old man brought the issue to the forefront. During the arrest, one officer used his panic button and the CSS communication center was alerted that he needed backup. However, the radio GPS could not find the officer’s location.

Due to the nature of radio frequencies, it is impossible to have a perfect system, Leone said.

“No one can guarantee 100 percent,” Leone said. “Most contractors will state a 95 percent reliability [rate], which in the industry is high. We try to shoot for above that…anything can cause an issue with an RF signal.”

Leone added that, following the incident, many officers experienced anxiety and had concerns about their safety. As a result, the director and deputy director spoke with a cross-section of officers about the radio system, explaining the technicalities and what they plan for the future of the system.

CSS also looked back at its GPS printouts to see where the officers were last picked up that day. Leone said CSS is still trying to figure out why the officers could not be located at the time of the incident.

“The best thing is to talk on the radio, have someone respond and that’s when you know for sure 100 percent you’re getting through,” Leone said. “But the GPS is an added layer of protection.”

The system transition was gradual and is still being improved regularly by making adjustments to repeaters and antennas in an effort to maximize coverage. In coming months, CSS will continue to examine and test the system.

“We’re trying to drill down on every possible thing to try to figure out what’s causing any type of issue,” Leone said. “We’ve done adjustments along the way so now, coverage wise, we probably have one of the best footage radio systems.”

The FCC predicts licensees will ultimately implement equipment that is designed to operate on channel bandwidths of 6.25 kHz or less. However, there is currently no deadline set for making this transition.

Becky Kerner can be reached at beckykerner@temple.edu.

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