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For more information on Consulting and Grants, contact Jim Eatock at 217-833-2488, or email jim@b-kelectric.com.

Grants and Consulting: Been there, done that.

Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG)


We will be happy to provide industry-standard non-specific budgetary pricing for any local or regional communications grant application


We know the ins and outs of the AFG process, what qualifies and what doesn't.


Under the AFG rules, we will decline to consult on any local project where we may be a potential bidder, BUT...


For any agency outside our normal service area, please contact us for assistance on writing your grant proposal for:

Regional communications systems, equipment and plans
Single Agency mobile and portable equipment, radios or pagers
Single Agency fixed infrastructure
And from our electrical contracting side, information on firehouse electrical or standby generator modifications.


You gotta have a plan...

Things you know:

bulletInteroperable planning seem to be 10% equipment and 90% politics.
bulletOur radios are falling apart, or have quit working reliably.
bulletWe can't talk to each other at an incident scene.
bulletWe're better off calling Dispatch on the cell, IF we get a signal.
bulletWhere do we need to be in five years?

Things you DON'T Know:

bulletWhat is Narrow-Band?
bulletWhat equipment is available, and what do we really need, vs. what our local vendor is telling us.
bulletWhat the industry standards for communication protocols or procedures are.
bulletHow to get our volunteers off dead-center and moving forward.
bulletWe've heard of "Radio Propagation Studies", but have no idea what they are or where to get one.
bulletWhat's a TIC-P?

Our Government Consulting Services:


Specific equipment quotes (mobiles, portables, pagers, fixed infrastructure).


Non-manufacturer specific equipment budgetary pricing, advice and planning.


Interoperability and Communication Protocol public speaking programs for agency and other group meetings (ie, 'ticking' them off, getting them off dead-center, letting an outsider get them all riled up...)


Investigation and written assessment reporting of existing conditions and equipment life cycle.


Complete radio propagation and engineering services.

bulletTactical Interoperable Communications Plans (TICP) for your region or county.
bulletNarrowband migration planning

Site and existing operational surveys and studies.

bulletGovernance body assistance.

Multi-Year Master Communication Plans to comply with NFPA 1561 and 1221.


Complete (!) written radio study for your city / county / region- real "boots on the ground" research, not just changing the names from the last one we wrote.

bulletA recent article about our consulting services:



4/4/2012 8:41:00 AM
Consultant to Bureau County: Play nice, share toys


Lindsay Vaughn
(Princeton NewsTribune) Staff Writer

PRINCETON (IL) — Lives are at risk due to the poor communication and inter-operability between law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies in Bureau County.

Communications consultant Jim Eatock of B-K Electric, whom Bureau County board hired to conduct a public safety radio communications study, told the board Tuesday that they have been lucky so far. People may die because of the lack of communication and cooperation between the sheriff’s office and various police, fire and EMS agencies throughout the county, which violates a presidential directive.

“This is the A-No. 1, absolute, first, foremost priority with Federal Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security and Illinois Emergency Management Agency in regards to communications: anybody can talk to anybody as needed on demand and as authorized across all levels of government and across all disciplines,” Eatock said.

“You have a mess here in Bureau County. You have policies and procedures that are directly contrary to the prime directive and the reason that we should be responders.”

Currently, different agencies communicate on different channels and go through different dispatch centers. For example, rather than talking to EMS directly, a law enforcement officer might have to go through his dispatch center, which might have to go through another dispatch center to relay the message to the ambulance. In times of crisis, this can make timely, coordinated responses more difficult and put lives at risk, Eatock said.

Eatock played a recording of the back-and-forth-and-back-again communication relayed through BuEComm and the sheriff’s dispatch center between several agencies that couldn’t communicate together as they tried to respond to a 911 call reporting a heart attack. The victim in that case felt their response wasn’t quick enough and tried to drive himself to the hospital, potentially putting more lives in jeopardy, said Eatock.

“I’m not pointing fingers at any one agency. Just fix it,” he said. [Note: Specific recommendations are detailed in the written report.  je]

All responders need one channel where they can communicate together, he said, and when someone calls with an emergency, the person who answers the phone should be the one who sticks with them. The caller shouldn’t be transferred elsewhere if they didn’t reach the right agency to handle their call, as they are now, he said.

“You learned it in kindergarten. Play nice. Share your toys,” Eatock said.

To make this happen, Eatock said Bureau County’s various agencies must establish a governance body to set new policies and procedures.

“The governance body should be a new thing, a new group of all the stakeholders, all the players, representatives of those of us who get up at two o’clock in the morning to go put out a house fire or to be out on a traffic stop at one o’clock or jump in the ambulance and go off to save somebody for whatever reason,” Eatock said.

“They have to work with all the players to come up with the plan. Right now, you don’t have a plan.”

The other hurdle in Bureau County’s communications crisis, the one with the more tangible solution, is the unfunded mandate of narrow-banding. The deadline to comply with the FCC’s new requirements, which were announced a decade ago, is fast approaching.

“The drop-dead date is the end of this year,” Eatock said.

Bureau County needs to replace all of its equipment, Eatock said. [Note: in both the live presentation and the printed report, this requirement refers to the Sheriff Department's present equipment; many other agencies including BuEComm 911 have current and properly maintained equipment. je]

“Everything the sheriff owns is junk,” he said. [Note: The exact details are qualified in the printed report as twenty-year-old mobile equipment and base station radios that are outdated and non-narrowband compliant, and base station antenna systems that are in need of complete replacement.  je]

Eatock recommended the county replace the sheriff’s office’s portable and car radios with analog VHF units, which are the cheapest and perform better than other radio formats over hills, valleys and ridges and through trees.

“You haven’t got the budget for anything else,” he said.

The existing users on this platform are another benefit.

“Every other agency in the county has an investment or a commitment to analog VHF,” Eatock said.

Eatock suggested the county board could purchase these analog VHF radios for the sheriff’s office, with mobile repeaters for the vehicles, for about $165,000 for mid-tier units.

Then the board would need to plan for additional infrastructure.

With the one repeater tower the sheriff’s office now uses, there are a lot of dark areas in the county where radio reception is unstable or unavailable, such as in Walnut, Eatock said. That puts officers at risk when they can’t call for back-up.

“Sooner or later, you’re going to need more towers,” he said. “Put it in your budget next year. Put it in every budget for the next five years.”




We offer complete propagation and radio site study services.

Please contact us with the details of your project for a system quote.


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Read NFPA 1221 2010 Edition online.

Read NFPA 1561 2008 Edition online.

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In My Opinion:

The following is the opinion and view of the web page author,

and I can't blame anyone else. Please feel free to cut, copy, paste or reuse my own material as you wish as long as due credit is given.

February, 2012


As heroic as the activities of any Public Safety agency may be, as larger than life as any officer or responder may appear, as much as each individual responder is sworn to serve and protect the public, there is one over-riding requirement: Everyone goes home!

While this will be a major educational program for the fire services in 2012, it applies equally to Law Enforcement, EMS and all other public safety disciplines. Political policies and un-necessary equipment incompatibilities that create artificial barriers to communications are proven to be a major contributor to incident related deaths and injuries (SafeCom and NFPA) and can not be tolerated.

The responsibility for creating and enforcing an atmosphere of cooperation and communications interoperability lies directly on the shoulders of the individual agency chiefs, and their governing boards and committees. Ultimately, those individuals are responsible to the voting public. You can no longer afford to ignore these issues. It is sincerely hoped that the public not become aware of the lack of inter-agency cooperation and interoperability (and the extra taxpayer expense required to maintain private or proprietary systems) due to the serious injury or death of any person, either a responder or member of the public.

However, all too often this has sadly been the case. September 11th was a national wake-up call.  It is my genuine wish that it does not take the death or injury of anyone else to prompt necessary changes.


Everyone goes home!


Historically, the Fire Service has the habit of examining every action of every run to see what they did, whether right or wrong, and to learn from their many collective mistakes. Billions of man-hours are spent doing so, and that information is quantified, detailed and extended to all members of the Fire Service community. It’s just what they do. Fire Service members have plenty of time to ponder, discuss and plan their actions en-masse while polishing the trucks between runs, and have turned it into an institutional art form.

In that, the Law Enforcement community is at a disadvantage. Most of their time is spent alone, dashing from incident to incident trying to keep the swamp from overflowing, with alligators nipping at their backside for the entire shift.

Because of that simple difference the Fire Service as an institution has developed, through trial and error, a vast library of validated methods, policies and procedures, and has the ability to continually test, document and change their findings. While the Law Enforcement and Emergency Medical communities have many excellent procedures and much collected knowledge, the Fire Service has documented and distributed even more. Simply, the Fire Service has vastly more commonly applicable policies, validated procedures and documentation to quote from.

For instance, the generally applied National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command Structure (ICS) were created and fine-tuned by Wildland Fire Fighting organizations. Whether by plan or by accident, most emergency managers, especially those initially forced to use this complicated ‘new-fangled stuff’, find it is actually very simple and works so well they now swear by those structured plans. Upon examination many successful businesses discovered that they had been using the same general type of management structure for years, and incorporated the balance of NIMS and ISC into their business plans, making them even more efficient and successful. What was originally created for management, accountability and span of control at forest fires also works at McDonald’s™ .


Fire service members seldom do anything without having someone assist and watch their back. Excessive manpower on a fire or accident scene is often considered not enough manpower. The Law Enforcement community has a different view: One officer is often believed to be more than enough, and backup is seldom called until things are already out of hand and backup is still minutes away.  These biases show up in the standard operating procedures, and extend into communications planning and policy.

The Law Enforcement and Fire Service communities are forced to be cordial, but are historically on less than friendly terms.  Law Enforcement personnel often consider members of the Fire Services to be arrogant unprofessional asses who drive too fast, destroy evidence, and have an unnatural attraction to shiny red trucks, fried fish and beer. Fire personnel often consider members of the Law Enforcement community to be arrogant unprofessional asses who drive too fast, park their cars in precisely the wrong spot, are overly concerned with keeping their uniform clean, and have a fatal affinity for doughnuts. The Emergency Medical community often thinks the same of the aforementioned while Fire & Law collectively believe EMS to be arrogant unprofessional asses who drive too fast, are overly tidy health nuts, and can not do anything but apply band-aids without help.

Unfortunately for the public that we all serve those assessments are too often correct. In light of events over the past ten years, the taxpayers are rightly demanding that public safety organizations work together in the most professional and efficient manner possible. Too often we forget that we are first and foremost sworn to preserve and protect ourselves, protect public life and property, must do so in the most professional manner possible, and are required to play together nicely, share our toys and watch each other’s backs.

The Fire Service, especially volunteer organizations, are the worst offenders. Unprofessional behavior, dubious personnel selection, lack of training, outdated traditions, and an extreme lack of professional standards is often the norm. There is no place for that behavior now, and even less in the future. Fire Service agencies have two choices: step all the way up, or step all the way out. It’s that simple.

All public service disciplines also need to understand that each discipline has specialized training and an inventory of toys to make things happen. Each discipline also needs to understand and appreciate the other’s biases and substantially differing points of view.


Taxpayer funded agencies cannot afford duplication of personnel or equipment just to make anyone feel privileged or special. In the business community, private companies hire the specialized services of entities or personnel to do what they do best because it is most efficient and cost effective for the business. Like it or not that is what will be done, and the penalty is getting fired.

We should have no different view simply because we are public servants.

Any Elected Official, Chief, Firefighter, Officer or Technician who does not do everything in their power to perform every duty at every incident in the most cooperative, efficient and professional manner possible should be fired by their boss, the taxpaying public. Step up, or step out.


Historically, each discipline has performed independently and entirely on its own, prefers to speak in its own special tongue on its own private channel, and looks down on the other disciplines. But from a purely technical radio communications standpoint, there are more similarities between Fire, EMS and Law communication needs than there are differences.

The radio vendor’s job is very straightforward: Pick up that voice over there and deliver it over here as clearly and accurately as the agency’s budget allows. Do that for a wide area C&C channel, and do it again to meet short range Tactical needs. The agency’s political supervision must always have a wider view.

Although the language and terminology differ, all responders require a reliable means of Initial Notification , a reliable means of wide area Command and Control communication, and reliable short range Tactical communications. The main difference is that Firefighters need far more Tactical communications capability, while Law Enforcement and EMS need more wide area Command and Control.

For Firefighters, dependable short range Tactical communications often mean the difference between life and death. They operate radios in total darkness while wearing heavy gloves. Mutual aid has become the norm, so even though they might not personally know the individuals involved, knowing that most firefighters automatically work on the same standard (at least in theory) is a warm and fuzzy feeling. Volumes of policy and procedure have been written laying out those standards. Paid or volunteer, the smart professional Firefighters embrace them; many overly traditional Firefighters refuse to even give them a glance over and eventually suffer for it.

There are operational differences as well. Law Enforcement officers perform the majority of their work alone on the street, while Firefighters gather in herds around burning buildings and wrecked cars. Law Enforcement often requires more private or secure communications, while Firefighters must hear everything relating to their safety.

Many Law mobile radios are moved to a new car every two or three years, get cold and hot with the seasons, are often coffee-filled, used for hours every shift, and still have to reach out reliably over a wide area. A Fire Service mobile radio may stay snug and warm in the same apparatus for ten or fifteen years, and on average are only used four or five times per run.

The need to put more emphasis on portable devices amplifies the problem. Firefighters love to burn antennas off portables and soak everything with water. Although I see many battle scared Fire Service portables, I have yet to encounter a Law Enforcement portable with more bullet holes or knife wounds than belt wear and tear received getting in and out of the car. 

Firefighting Tactical communications normally only require that your portable radio hears my portable radio over a distance of less than a city block. Performing fire Tactical functions using any infrastructure system is foolhardy, dangerous and in many cases a fatal mistake (NFPA). Law Enforcement critical Life and Safety or Tactical communications require the use of repeaters and fixed infrastructure and are normally conducted on the same channel as their wide area C&C. This means that the Law officer’s portable has to work as well on the C&C channel as his mobile, and over the same wide area.

In contrast, only the Fire Incident Commander has a need to use the C&C channel while on a fire scene, and if his portable doesn’t work he can reach into a nearby apparatus and use the mobile. A Law officer dealing with a domestic dispute doesn’t have that luxury. Providing that level of C&C reliability for a Law Enforcement Officer’s Critical Life and Safety needs requires carefully designed and maintained fixed infrastructure.


I cringe when an agency contacts me for a bid on changing their critical Life and Safety communications systems to the the latest wiz-bang cutting edge digital radio technology. My first question is usually "Why?". The standard answer is usually "Because it's new and new is always better." It takes a lot of explaining to convince them to stop relying on  the slick magazine adds touting the "latest and greatest" for their information, and do some real research (like reading the NFPA injury and death reports) before abandoning their plain old interoperable analog equipment in favor of the shiny and new.


From an administrative viewpoint, the fixed infrastructure required for any wide area Command and Control communications system is a significant budgetary item, while the Tactical issues are mainly ones of common radio programming, policy and training. The silver lining is that while the first C&C channel is expensive, adding additional channels to a site can be relatively inexpensive because the antenna, tower, backhaul and enclosure already exist. The key here is to select the correct radio frequencies, and plan for expansion and joint use of physical facilities.

The first battle will be determining the budget and plan for C&C and Tactical needs, coupled with creating and maintaining an interoperable communications policy. If you can leverage shared facilities and common capabilities, you can get the best of both worlds for all responders and everyone’s job becomes safer and more efficient. At this point, where the voice on any particular channel or resource is routed is irrelevant, as long as it goes reliably to the right place. The key is the quality of the communications proved by shared facilities.

If tower sites, backhaul and other facilities exist to provide Fire and EMS agencies with wide area Command and Control communications, why not leverage existing public agency sites and add Law Enforcement channels to existing sites? Each agency can still maintain its own communications paths, while sharing the most expensive portion of the overall system. Tactical channels are much simpler, as available frequencies are easier to find and implement.


The real battle starts when that ugly world interoperability rears its snake covered head. Back in the day, Andy only had to talk with Barney, the ambulance was a fast white hearse with a bubble-gum machine on the roof, and the Firefighters acted more like the Keystone Cops than the police ever did.

Things are much different today, and will continue changing. The voices now need to go everywhere.  Interoperable planning isn’t just for major catastrophes and disasters, it is necessary for every-day emergencies and routine events.

Over half of all incidents today involve two or three disciplines that must work together as a unified whole. A vehicular accident requires that EMS, Law and Fire assets work together along the highway to safely extricate the victim and stabilize them for transport. Law Enforcement is called to assist on suicidal or combative EMS calls. Firefighters help move weight-challenged EMS patients down stairs. Law Enforcement has EMS on standby for a school firearm incident, and calls in Firefighters for additional manpower. Scores of volunteers walk off the street to assist Law, Fire and EMS conduct a lost child search.

Tornados and ice storms bring out everyone, interrupt cell phones, and need to include public works and utilities. EMS rolls on standby or responder rehabilitation for structure fires and Law handles traffic and crowd control. If it is a big fire, five or six different Fire Departments may be on scene along with Law and EMS, ABC’s, XYZ’s and other acronym-identified agencies. News Media will document every miss-step for the Ten O’clock news.

Today’s changing roles require that all responders have a common interoperable communications plan that is established, practiced and used on every incident no matter how small or insignificant it may initially seem.

There is no argument that much routine or administrative communication can take place on private channels, or that the special operational needs of Law Enforcement blur the line between C&C and critical Tactical or Life and Safety communications. But there is a point where everyone has to have common communications ability and all too often that ability is a victim of political circumstance. At best it is only dusted off for special occasions where nobody can remember how it is supposed to function. Daily and routine use of an interoperable plan makes it second nature when the ventilator starts to throw brown.


Firefighters can be likened to the former Soviet Empire: they have a plan for everything, do not do anything without a plan, and have trouble accepting that others do not think the same way. The positive feature is that Fire Service plans are well documented, practiced and validated by every-day operations, and changed when a better plan comes along. Fire Service interoperable communications are second nature to professional Firefighters, and there is a clear need for the same to be true of all public safety responders.


Cooperation, planning, cooperation, safety, cooperation, efficiency, cooperation and training are key elements. 


It's unfortunate that in many places I've visited, the local politics and personalities make achieving that level of cooperation as easy as herding feral cats.


Remember, Everyone goes home!




Technology will never replace common sense, planning, training, or tight budgets.

I am a Geek,  no argument, no contest.  I design and install the latest voting and digital systems.  But I cringe at the thought of any first responder agency using any technology that isn't 100% backwards compliant and isolates them from their neighbors, including supposedly standard digital formats such as P25 or NXDN.

Nationally the major "Powers that Be" are pushing and shoving the Public Safety Community into 7/800 MHz technology, using Interoperability and newly available bandwidth as their justification.  There's several problems with this plan, the biggest ones being the misapplication of "One-Size-Fits-All", followed closely by K.I.S.S.  and that ugly word, "Budget".  The State of Illinois says we can all can afford 7/800 MHz digital portables because they have 'cut a deal' with their non-bid sole source vendor and offer no-bid equipment under a state contract. Equipment is only $4,000 per unit plus options and subscriber fees. Such a deal! (Never mind that the street price of high-mid tier analog portables is less that $600.00 and have no continuing subscriber fee.)

At the Podunk Fire Protection District, $4,000 is about 25% of the total annual budget. 

If you look at the population of this country, a large percentage live in Urban areas where 7/800 MHz works well.  But 7/800 doesn't like hills and trees and if you look at the total land mass of the U.S., a lot of it is rough and rural, with low population density and best served by 150 MHz VHF systems, not 7/800 with its attendant infrastructure requirements.  That is an inconvenient truth of radio.  "But Cellular Service is good out there, so 7/800 should be also. We can drive all over the country and never drop a call." Sure you can, as long as you're within 10 miles of an Interstate Highway or city.  Try calling from up Bee Creek or out in the middle of nowhere at a rail hazmat incident or a plane crash. I have trouble making a cell call from one of my VHF tower sites way up on top of a ridge.  Go outside on a dark night and count the number of cell tower strobe lights you can see.  If there's lots of them, cellular service is generally good.  To have reliable, portable public safety coverage on 7/800 will require almost as many public safety towers as cell sites.  At a million apiece, do the math.

7/800 MHz systems, be they analog or digital have their place.  They work just dandy in urban settings with high user density where lots of infrastructure is cost effective.  7/800 works well in buildings and pretty well on flat open ground, as long as there are towers to hook up with.  Encryption, voting and trunking are a breeze.  The data pipe is huge.  Granted there are radio quirks in any system, but overall its not a bad plan in those settings.  But not all...  ask the U.S.  Forestry Service- they seem to be the only Federal exception to this technological feeding frenzy and perform most operations on stupid old analog VHF because it works where they work, and 7/800 doesn't.

150 MHz analog VHF isn't  new, fancy or cutting edge.  Its just the lowest common denominator (a key element in genuine interoperability), and has only been reliable since the Korean War.  But while VHF performs well out in the Styx, flows over hills and penetrates trees and foliage, it doesn't like buildings and urban areas.  The data pipe is small, and proprietary frequencies are hard to get. I can't send a text message over my VHF portable.  But there are small items that the folks pushing new technology can't seem to grasp: VHF works better than any other radio band in rough terrain and rural settings, it doesn't require a fortune in (or any) fixed infrastructure to work, everyone in rural America already uses it, and it's relatively inexpensive.  And while I can't (nor really need to) send a "txt msg" over analog VHF, it does trunk and vote just fine.  Its just not new and sexy.

Here at home, we cover 800 square miles of rough to hilly terrain with only four VHF base transmit sites, have 95% reliable public safety portable to base coverage, and we do all this with $400 portables.  The State's 800 MHz system covers the same area with at least 9 sites, and realistically only has 75% coverage for their high priced portables.  There are probably more than 30 cellular towers covering the county, but we have many major holes.  VHF covers us with 4 prime repeater sites.  Plus, we are 100% interoperable with all of the Law, Fire and EMS neighbors in every surrounding county and two states.  We only have difficulty communicating with the State agencies using the State's 800 system because they have "moved forward" into technology incompatible with much of the state.  The official State response is "it works perfectly for us"; the state folks on the sharp end of the stick have a differing "off the record" opinion.  When we really need to talk to them, we call them on the cell phone (if we both have coverage).  The official State response to this problem: "Buy some expensive 7/800 MHz sole-source radios and pay the monthly user fees to our vendor, because we're getting rid of our interoperable VHF equipment."  How's that for a statewide interoperability plan?

A great many rural responders simply don't have (and won't have) adequate 7/800 MHz infrastructure coverage for the areas where they have to have it.  Putting up a million dollar 7/800 MHz tower to cover a dozen miles of state road and a hundred square miles of scattered farm houses will be low on the list of priorities.  Nor can most first responders afford to replace cheap, perfectly functional stupid old VHF analog radios with gee-wiz new 7/800 MHz digitals at ten times the cost. 

Recently, the State has warned that the present budget will not allow them to even update their aging VHF interoperable base stations to narrowband. The result will be even further isolation of state assets from local assets. Let's just say there are 100 state-owned sites, each with four radios. If the State uses an economical option, each base stations should cost less than $10K installed- remember, its just a new radio on the same center frequency, not a whole new tower or console interface.   On a statewide basis this should cost the taxpayers far less than $5M, and would maintain interoperability with less financially fortunate municipalities.

Option one: Nationally, spent hundreds of billions of our scarce tax dollars to build towers,  force one single technology to work with guaranteed coverage in all locations, assist with the artificially high cost of sole-source equipment and access fees, put non-urban first responders at the tail end of the line, and line the pockets of the vendor with the most lobbyists.

Option two: Leverage and support what ever really works and fund the most cost effective plan (whatever band or technology that may be for a given area), then cut away the over-engineered red tape plans, get your retirement funds out of the select vendor's stocks, and bridge the systems that work best in any one area at a tenth of the total cost for the one time a year we have a big 'Yall Come incident.  And make it ALL happen, including the 'Yall Come pre-plan.

I applaud the State of Missouri and their plan for the MOSWIN network. They're not trying to force the one-size-fits-all square peg into a geography with round holes. Missouri is heavily forested with scenic hills and valleys, the perfect playground for VHF. Almost all the existing municipalities already use VHF. In the major urban areas 7/800 is already in use and works well (growing pains excepted). The MOSWIN system will be built to use VHF statewide, with the VHF linked to 7/800 networks in the urban areas. If you have access to either band, you can talk to all of the interoperable users on both bands, using the network as a full-time talkgroup bridge. Missouri has also clearly indicated the need to allow multiple vendors to supply qualified equipment to operate on the network. Even better, MO-DPS is the one who can say who is qualified and who is not, an ability that is retained by the primary vendor in several other statewide networks.

Apply technology sensibly, and partner instead of parallel.  Use 7/800 MHz where it works best, use other technology where it works better, create and enforce open standards, pre-plan bridges and links, and genuinely support common interoperability channels.

In the mean time, I guess this means a lot of us will just keep on being stupid.

And talking reliably to our other stupid neighbors.


je, who says 'Merry Christmas, 2011' 


I can't see the payback.

I just spent a couple of hours creating a spreadsheet comparing our very functional county-wide existing (and paid for) stupid old VHF analog system versus switching 300+ radios over to the Illinois Starcom system.

Non-technical and budget-blind bureaucrats just don't get it that there isn't one universally perfect radio medium. Its like having the entire fire department argue and vote on whether a 114.8 CTCSS code is better than a 103.5 CTCSS code when there is no operational advantage to either one. (And yes, I have witnessed that very argument.)

Pre-planning and ACU's or bridges work, and are cheap compared to spending millions t communicate at a major incident that might happen once a year. Don't get me wrong on one important point: Everyone has to be ready for that one annual big incident, even if it never happens.

Cost per unit. If you add up all the replacement, repair and preventive maintenance costs for our existing portable/mobile radios and infrastructure system, it works out to about $165/radio/year, for all radios county-wide. Dumping our old analog radios and replacing them with genuine Mother radios amortized over 5 years, using only genuine Mother replacement parts, and paying Mother's $53/Mo/Radio fee works out to over $1,800/radio/year. (Daryl Jones figures the State pays over $2,000/radio/year just for Starcom Infrastructure.) When Mother gets their new $70/mo/radio user fee that's part of their non-bid contract, that figure goes up. I can buy THREE mid- or high-tier analog portables a year form another manufacturer for the same money, and throw them away when they get dirty. IF Starcom was a genuine open system and other vendor's Public Safety grade trunking P25 equipment could be used on the Starcom system (and still using the higher monthly fee), I come up with about $1,350/mo/year. Mother pays lip service to "evaluating" other equipment for use, but in reality it will never happen. Allowing that to happen could save us taxpayers $5-10 million a year, but those savings would come right off Mother's bottom line, so it won't fly. That proves that the "economy of scale" dream is just a dream.

Paying for new radios. DHS is only putting grant money into statewide planning and metro areas. We're a 17,000 population rural county. With the exception of AFG regional grants (which haven't been going for over $300K) I see about $250K annually and $1.25M over 5 years to be made up out of the local budget, not including the user fees. The USA is broke. Illinois is really broke. We don't have it locally, and are unlikely to get it.

Coverage. Better in some areas, worse in others. We already have a multi-site voted 3-channel VHF system. We get 95% regional analog VHF portable to base/repeater coverage now, and Mother has 9 towers - yes, 9 - that cover the high spots in our 800 square mile corner of the world. 7/800MHz doesn't like hills and foliage, and that's about all we have. Voice quality? Digital sounds good when everything works right- which isn't always the case. Analog can get scratchy but still be useable. (And I still remember being on patrol with just a 39.5 Lo-Band radio and swooning when the neighbors went to a "cutting-edge" VHF analog repeater. I also remember trunk-mount radios with vacuum tubes, but I'm dating myself.)

Ease of use. A 16-channel analog radio is really pretty simple to use, and most of the time 12 of those channels are never used. Trunking adds major points of failure, and digital operations have their own quirks. I have end users complaining now that 2 or 3 channels are too confusing for responders- I can't wait to have them use a complex multi-banked trunking radio at one of the 5 structure fires they have a year.  Scanning analog channels is easy. Scanning talkgroups is problematic, especially when you need to listen to more than 2 or 3.

Interoperability. 95% of our communications stay within a single agency (and monitored by the neighbors), or are paged as joint fire/EMS incidents. We are presently 100% interoperable on analog VHF with all of our neighbors (except ISP), including the adjoining state. IREACH, MABAS and V-TAC channels are universally deployed and used for tactical interoperability. Per the ISP, non law enforcement folks shalt not speak on ISPERN. IREACH is an option, but it now resembles the old low-band 39.5MHz sheriff's channel with noise and confusion, and it only gets monitored when users are reminded. Because the ISP and DNR are almost strictly Starcom, we have serious problems communicating with them; Troopers have difficulty talking directly to our 911 dispatchers, largely because we use narrowband channels and their older Syntor mobiles won't go there. Troopers and local law enforcement almost always communicate via cell phone, or have the county dispatchers make a telephone call to the ISP dispatchers to relay information. If a local bank gets held up, all our neighbors can hear our traffic, but ISP Troopers eating lunch across the street won't know about the incident until our local cars show up, lights a-flashing

Major incident communications. If we have "the big one" and have to talk to a handful of outside agencies, they can use some our cached radios, get IEMA or Wildland cached radios, put our stupid old analog frequencies in their VHF radios (IF they are still allowed to have them), or put up a bridge. Instant? Nope, but you gotta have a plan. Our dispatch center does have 7/800 trunked capability just in case, as do a handful of other users.

Broadband and other super-technology. Our population density is about 24 people per square mile. Wire telephone and cable companies are loosing their collective rears. We only have adequate cell coverage because we're close to major highways. I doubt that we will rank far up there for getting universal high-speed public safety access. And of course, the costs will be very "reasonable"- Congress, DHS and the FCC are involved.

The future? 20 years from now, stupid old analog radios will still be available, practical and affordable for a rural fire department with an $18,000 annual budget to buy insurance, fuel, heat, hose and new boots, and lacking the $12,500 to pay the yearly Starcom user fees. P25? Its already outdated and non-standardized, and has "issues". Even the FCC Chairman isn't an optimist. Only a small handful of existing P25 radios can be updated to anything new, if that. Today's new P25 phase 1 radios can't be updated to phase 2, if and when its standardized. Something substantially better will come along every 3 or 4 years. A 10-year technology commitment is a joke- just look at the computer you're reading this on and compare it to what was available only five years ago.




Public Safety Communications.

The following is based both on the collective experience of first responders, a little technical knowledge, and the collective wisdom of NFPA 1221 and 1561.

For any public safety incident, communications needs can be broken down into three areas. They are, in order of use:

  1. Initial notification.
  2. Response command, control and coordination.
  3. Tactical Operations.

Each of these three communication PATHS should be considered very different, and each has its own unique needs and operational rules. 

In a bit more detail, the first one, Initial Notification, is perhaps the simplest yet most misunderstood and misapplied.  The purpose of Initial notification is just that, the first notification to responders of the who, what and where that gets the troops out of bed and rolling in the right direction. For most agencies, we're talking plain old pagers, or radios with page alert features enabled. For the technically inclined, cell phone SMS, or a wide variety of other means all work.  The hard and fast rule is that everyone gets the notification in a reliable and timely manner. 

In the old days, we rang the bell (or whistle or siren) at the fire house and everyone (who lived in running distance anyway) came running.  In today's world of specialized and wide-ranging operations, that old simple system (albeit effective for a small area) doesn't give us enough information. To make matters worse, proprietary radio channels are pretty hard to find, and when you step back and look at the big picture, really don't make much sense. You need more information! Yes, I want to know when my own agency if called out, but really don't want everyone in town to come for a look-see. 

What does make sense, is for one combined joint regional initial notification channel with good base talk-out coverage to be used by everyone in my region, so I can get the big picture. If I don't care about anything but my own agency, give me a pager that will only open up when our name is called; that way I can blissfully ignore everyone else without affecting the whole system.  Having a wide area coverage also means that my radio will alert in a wide geographical area, not just within the small footprint of my own small proprietary transmitter. I can still set my pager to its narrow setting and keep my narrow view, but I also have the opportunity to know that a neighboring agency has been called out, and that I may need to stroll to the house and provide mutual aid.  Or as happens far too often, the neighbors don't have anyone available to respond, in which case I may be going as the primary responder.

But, here's where things get muddy.

The downside to everyone in a region using one initial notification channel is it that becomes congested. Its always paging.  And it is always busy so I can't talk back on it. But guess what? Once I am on the way, I don't NEED the Initial Notification channel any more. I've already BEEN notified and can forget about it.  And I don't ever need to talk on it, because I can use my response command, control and coordination channel. (NFPA say 750 calls a year warrants an exclusive paging channel for this reason.)

OK, you got notified and have your boots on.  Now what?  You change channels. and either say that you're on the way, or listen to the C&C channel to make sure someone is. I once had a rural fire chief tell me that his guys were smart enough to pump a truck or perform Haz-Mat operations along an interstate highway, but were too dumb to switch channels on their radio.  Honest.  Guys, learn to change channels.

The response command, control and coordination (a new concept, aka the C&C channel) is used for communication between ALL assets assigned to an incident not actively performing life and safety operations. This is the channel where you tell dispatch you're on the way. This is where you find out who else is (or isn't) responding. This is where you talk truck to truck between your own units or with responders from two districts over. This is where you announce "THE PLAN", and make sure everyone knows what to do. This is the channel where everyone who needs to know what is going on can find out.

Technically, a good C&C channel is repeated, or trunked, and has coverage over your entire region. Here is where the latest technology is best applied. Everyone who talks, be it from the dispatch console, a truck or a responder's portable, can be heard by everyone else.  Communication flows seamlessly along this path. The downside is that you need more than one C&C communications path if you have more than one incident at a time, and it requires an investment in infrastructure. NFPA has this down in detail, but the above simply sums it up.

Now we get to the last communications path, Tactical Operations. And here is where many agencies screw up.

Assets arrive at the Incident Scene and Command is established. The C&C channel is not only worthless for tactical operations, but can be a dangerous, even fatal choice. If I have a serious life and safety issue, I can't wait for someone miles away to shut up. If I'm miles away, I can't hear a portable in the basement calling mayday and will cheerfully walk all over them. If I am dependent on a distant repeater, or even worse a trunking controller to give me a 'clear to talk' chirp, I may be in trouble. Firefighters have died for these reasons.

Tactical operations involve life and safety, are usually within close proximity, and require only the simplest of technology. That's ALL they need to be and no more. Nosey neighbors twenty miles away don't NEED to hear your operational traffic anyway. That's why we move operations to a dedicated tactical channel that is:

  1. Useable by everyone involved in operations within the short range and scope of the Incident Scene.
  2. Is plain vanilla, dumb, stupid old simplex, that doesn't add ANY points of failure between the transmitter in my hand and the receiver at your ear.
  3. Doesn't have anyone talking on it that the Incident Commander can't hit with a rock.

I hear all too often that the Incident Commander can't listen to two channels. If you're smart enough to wear the white hat, you get to carry two radios. One for the C&C channel to talk to people you can't see, and one to talk to the tactical folks you can see. (Two radios - one on C&C and one on tactical - is preferred over a single scanning radio.) If the IC is too deeply involved in Operations to monitor the C&C channel, have someone else monitor it and tap the Commander on the shoulder when need be.

And again, if you're not on-scene, stay off the tactical channel for fear of talking over someone calling mayday, or an evacuation order. This also applies to 'foreign' users on that channel. If you have someone distant on a high powered base station covering up your own local tactical communications, you have picked the wrong channel.

In Illinois, MABAS has six dedicated fireground channels. Everyone in the state should have them and use them on every incident requiring tactical communications. They're all low power, so the chances of your traffic on FG-RED being covered by another incident on FG-RED over in the next county are slim.  And even better, if your simple incident turns into a big 'Yall Come, any foreigners coming to play already have your tactical channel in their radio.

And please, please, please have a couple of training sessions every year just on radio communications, and make sure all your radios really work.





Current topics and considerations from others:

December 21, 2010- 

The U. S. Inspector General, acting on the request of the NTIA, has launched an investigation into the noncompetitive nature of a grant for broadband communications in the San Francisco Bay Area. In brief, Motorola was handed the no-bid $50 million contract "in a manner that lacked transparency and prudence”, and without the vote of any public body.

Read more about it HERE and HERE.

To paraphrase the San Jose, CA city attorney, a lot of folks better be hiring lawyers.


Motorola faces bribery probe

Posted in September 20th, 2011

Click here to read the original article in The New Zealand Herald — 09/05/2011

US regulators are investigating an Austrian lobbyist and US telecom maker Motorola over alleged bribes of up to 2.2 million euros (NZ$3.68m), Austrian weekly Profil revealed at the weekend.

From April 2004 onwards, Motorola apparently transferred up to 2.2 million euros to three firms controlled by lobbyist Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly,
Profil said in a summary of a report to be published on Monday, local time.

Mensdorff-Pouilly then used this money to make “illegal payments” to key political figures in Europe and the Middle East, it said.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission had evidence that “people in office” were bribed with presents and holidays, and has now launched a probe against Mensdorff-Pouilly and Motorola, Profil added.

The news magazine already reported last week on an alleged contract between the lobbyist and the US telecom company over a digital radio project by the Austrian government.

Mensdorff-Pouilly allegedly helped secure the project for a consortium including Motorola and Telekom Austria, gaining up to 2.6 million euros in the process, according to Profil.

Telekom Austria is itself facing a wave of corruption claims that emerged in recent weeks, and on Friday announced an external probe by international experts into the allegations.

Mensdorff-Pouilly himself is no stranger to corruption claims.

In January 2010, he was charged in Britain with bribing European officials to secure fighter jet contracts for defence giant BAE Systems. The charges were eventually dropped.

Additional information is available from EMFactsConsultancy.

And another, via industry news portal:


Austrian police network tender possibly influenced – report

Monday 29 August 2011 | 17:00 CET

New allegations have emerged in the corruption scandal surrounding Telekom Austria. A report in the magazine Profil, carried by Austrian news agency APA, said lobbyist Alfons Mensdorff Pouilly has been accused of receiving EUR 3.7 million in illegal payments for services provided in the tender for the police’s digital radio network in 2004. All the major political parties have called for a parliamentary investigation into the accusations, while the governing OVP was more cautious, saying only it expects a full explanation. The accusation is that Mensdorf-Pouilly received EUR 1.1 million from Telekom Austria and up to EUR 2.6 million from Motorola, which partnered with Alcatel in the Tetron consortium to bid for the contact to build the police network.

The Tetron consortium won the contract in a second tender, after the then minister for interior, Ernst Stasser (OVP), took the contract away from the original winner, the Mastertalk consortium, which included Siemens, RZB, Verbund and Wr. Stadtwerke. Telekom Austria was responsible for delivering the infrastructure to the consortium.

Mensdorff-Pouilly reacted through his lawyer, saying that the EUR 1.1 million received from Telekom Austria was completely legal for services rendered and can be found in his administration and financial figures for the concerned period.

And here’s a 3 minute video by an undercover journalist exposing MEP Ernst Strasser (implicated in TETRA bribe scandal) as a lobbyist.



Public Safety & Homeland Security

Interoperability Is a Cultural Problem (Opinion)
Michigan wireless network/Illustration by Tom McKeith


We’ve written extensively about interoperability, mostly about the nuts and bolts of a system being deployed and the grant process that allowed said deployment to happen.

If there’s collaboration among the agencies or jurisdictions involved, we jump all over it, because that’s the name of the game these days.

A common refrain years ago was that agency or jurisdiction A couldn’t communicate with agency or jurisdiction B — or even within its own agency or jurisdiction. That was said to be an operability problem — not an interoperability problem.

Billions of dollars have been spent on interoperability since 9/11 and genuine progress has been made, but it seems that emergency managers view interoperability as something still to be attained.

For the most part, if agency A wants to talk to agency B, it can be achieved; the technology to facilitate this is available. And still interoperability is a problem. We heard so at a recent roundtable discussion involving several emergency managers.

Everybody at the table agreed: It’s a cultural problem. Agency

A doesn’t talk to agency B because the two aren’t really familiar with each other — or maybe they just don’t want to talk.

“Everybody talks about the quantifiable parts of interoperability — the money, the hardware — but not enough about the behavior part of it,” one emergency manager said. “How much effort is being put into the cultural aspect of it?”

Even where there’s a new, multimillion-dollar system, agency personnel revert to previous behavior. “Everything happens the way it did before, even after getting this new system,” another emergency manager said. “The police guy calls the dispatcher and he calls the fire guy; they still talk in silos. Unless we address this behavior, we’ll have a $100 million doorstop.”

There’s also the issue of language. We know different jurisdictions and agencies use different codes to communicate. Coming up with a common language has to be the first part of the cultural change, said an emergency manager.

And emergency managers can play key roles in this quest by hosting planning calls and conference calls — getting people to communicate regularly. “The best thing to do is have commanders sit next to each other in the operations centers.”

Another thing about interoperability that people stub their toes on is the notion that everyone must be able to talk to everyone, one participant said. “Everybody on the ground doesn’t have to talk to each other. When you bring people from other jurisdictions, you can plug people into your system. That to me is true interoperability.”

I wonder if in 10 years we’ll still be writing about interoperability as we do today — that it’s something that’s desired but still needs to be attained. Or will agencies and local governments move outside of their comfort zones and take advantage of the technology that’s readily available — will they open the dialog with their neighbors, making interoperability yesterday’s news?



Daryl Jones


I am a serial entrepreneur in the telecommunications field with focus on developing advanced technology for public safety. My associates and I design, build, and maintain  telephone and data communications systems for the police, fire and emergency medical sector. We are contractually responsible for more than twenty-five E911 dispatch centers, hundreds of base stations, dozens of radio sites and 80 fire stations in the San Francisco Bay Area. I live and work in San Mateo County, California.

I’ve been active in the open-source software community for many years, with particular interest in applying open-source solutions to local government.  My current avocation is learning to produce and edit professional quality video (Final Cut Pro with a Sony PMW-EX3 camera) as a way to provide training on technical subjects for first responders.

Please contact me by e-mail if you have questions or comments. daryl@tcomeng.com

For more information about my companies and non-profit organization, please see:


Telecommunications Engineering Associates


San Mateo Regional Network, Inc.


FireDispatch.com, Inc.



Once upon a time in a land far, far away…

Posted in December 12th, 2011


DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction and any references, direct, inferred or assumed, to your favorite vendor and/or equipment, real person, Slick-Salesman, troll, elf, and/or other imaginary creature, living or dead, is not intended to be specific however intentional it may appear. If you wish to complain that I am singling out vendor “X”, county “Y” and state “Z”, I will cite the same situation with vendors “A” & “O” in counties “Q” & “R” in states “E” and “F”. That being said, if you believe that there are not multiple instances that could be construed to be the subject of this work, you had better keep your rosy-colored glasses handy and watch out for marauding trolls and fire-breathing dragons as you march blissfully through your local forest.


Once upon a time

in the land of Far-Far-Away in the State of Insolvent there were some chiefs from Bewildered County. They had an old-fashioned stupid plain vanilla analog radio system that worked perfectly two thirds of the time, but the other third of the time their radios had a little static. Even though it almost never-ever failed completely it just wasn’t rosy and perfect. They could still talk to all their neighbors (who had old-fashioned stupid plain vanilla analog radio systems too), but not directly to the Big Department in Crooked County hundreds of miles away, or to the Inspectors from the State of Insolvent or the Men from Far-Far-Away. And most importantly, it just wasn’t shiny and NEW.

The Big Chief in Bewildered County had been envious of the shiny new super-duper radio system Crooked County was using. Those NEW magical radios just had to be BETTER and work super-duper everywhere. He wanted ALL of his Indians to be able to talk to ALL of the Big Department Indians or to ALL of the Inspectors from the State of Insolvent or to ALL of the Men from Far-Far-Away anytime they wanted, even though they probably wouldn’t ever need to. So he got a bid from the same vendor that Crooked County and the State of Insolvent used.

“Crooked County and the State of Insolvent buy from them,” he told the other Chiefs. "The Slick-Salesman even showed me a fancy parchment from his vendor that says they exceed the Far-Far-Away Department of Kingdom Security Everything Must Work Together Standards. Their price was only two million walnuts and the Slick-Salesman promised it was a bargain for the newest bestest thing. I don’t even need to get another bid because everything is on the Insolvent State Contract. Besides, Slick-Salesmen are never wrong and he confirmed that New is Always Better.”

Old Chief Fuddyduddy said, “Wait just a minute. The Big Department’s system is designed for high-rise castles or flat wide open fields. It won’t work well here in Bewildered County because all we have is scenic forested hills and charming little cabins nestled down in deep valleys. We already use all the stupid plain vanilla analog interoperability channels at big parties. If we changed we couldn’t talk to the neighbors over in Big Mountain County or to all our other neighbors like we can now. If we pick one hundred thousand walnuts and fix up our old-fashioned stupid plain vanilla analog radio system it will work just fine.  Why should we pick a whole two million walnuts to get a shiny new system?”

“Because our radios are scratched up and all dusty. Their shiny new super-duper radios are better because they are super-duper and shiny and new. Crooked County and State of Insolvent use them and we can be just like them. New is Always Better,” the Big Chief cheered.

The Chiefs invited the Slick-Salesman to a party where the Slick-Salesman led some of the Bewildered Chiefs singing “New is Always Better” songs. But old Chief Fuddyduddy didn’t sing along. He asked the Slick-Salesman “Everyone thinks your radios are Far-Far-Awayian-made, so just where do you make these shiny new radios?” The Slick-Salesman told the Chiefs that there were lots and lots of tiny little extra parts inside the shiny new radios, and that they were made in a distant kingdom in the East where there were lots and lots of elves with tiny little fingers. That way they could afford to put in all those tiny little extra parts.

The silly old Chief frowned and his crew-cut bristled. “He must not like elves with tiny fingers,” one of the other Chiefs whispered.

“So,” Chief Fuddyduddy asked, “when one of those tiny little extra parts break, can we send them to your castle here in Far-Far-Away to get them all fixed up?”

“Our radios never break because they’re shiny and new and perfect and special. But just in case a troll chews on one or a dragon breathes fire on it, we have fixer-upper elves standing by.” The Slick-Salesman suddenly had a sneezing fit, but Chief Fuddyduddy was sure he heard something about all the fixer-upper elves working in a distant southern kingdom.

That Arbor Day many of the Chiefs, the Bewildered Council Members, and Hizzonner the Mayor’s PAC all got wonderful walnut gifts from the Slick-Salesman’s cousin. Accepting baskets of plain old walnuts wouldn’t be nice, but they all agreed that accepting other walnut products was okey-dokey, so it was.

During the sales demo, all the Chiefs had to agree that the shiny new system didn’t have even an itsy-bitsy hint of static, although the voices sounded ... funny. Almost everyone started singing “New is Always Better songs”. Old Chief Fuddyduddy didn’t laugh at the funny voices and argued about the change, but the Bewildered Big Chief held his breath and stomped his feet and pouted until got his way.

Halfway through the project, the Slick-Salesman came to the Bewildered Chiefs and told them that there were itsy-bitsy problems with their initial design. If they gave him another million walnuts they could make it even more-better and only delay the project a little, just a year or two. They had already spent two million walnuts and the Slick-Salesman said it could be called an addition to an existing contract. So remembering their wonderful walnut gifts they agreed to the additions to make the shiny new system even more-better.

Just before the shiny new system was finished, the Slick-Salesman came to the Chiefs and told them about a super-shiny new-new radio that had just been introduced. It was even more-newer and more-shinier and more-better than the radio already on the contract and it let the Bewildered Dispatchers know how much battery life the new-new radios had remaining. The new-new radios weren’t exactly on the Insolvent State Contract, but the Slick-Salesman crossed his heart and hoped to die and promised that the price was right because they were the vendor Crooked County and the State of Insolvent always used.

Old Chief Fuddyduddy asked the Slick-Salesman who else was using the new-new radios. The Slick-Salesman mumbled something about the elves not building the new-new super-shiny radios quite yet. But them his face brightened and he told the Chiefs that everyone was getting them and the Super-Smart Engineers had all the bugs worked out and they were new-new and more-better. Since the radios were new-new and more-better and everyone was buying them and Super-Smart Engineers are never wrong, the Chiefs agreed. Besides, it was really only a million walnut addition to the existing contract and More-New is Always More-Better.

Only thirteen moons later the new-new radios arrived. During testing, they found that the extra data (knowing about battery life was new and therefore must be important) overloaded the channels and made the batteries run down quicker. The Slick-Salesman said that they needed new channels and bigger batteries to support the new, very important battery life data. New channels and bigger toys are always better and besides, it was really only a million walnut addition to the existing contract and New is Always Better.

Many, many, many moons later, the big day arrived and the shiny new-new radios were given to the Indians for the first time, and they marched out into the forest to arrest trolls and squirt water on dragons. Their shiny radios were brand new and simply had to be better. But there were some itsy-bitsy problems and the central magical thingamabob crashed so often nobody could talk. So, until the Super-Smart Engineers could fix the itsy-bitsy problem the Chiefs and Indians went back to their stupid plain vanilla analog radio system that worked perfectly two thirds of the time but had a little static the other third.

Just to get by, the Chiefs picked three hundred thousand walnuts from their emergency tree to fix up their old-fashioned stupid plain vanilla analog radio system to make the nasty static go away and sound just like the shiny new radios would.  Old Chief Fuddyduddy just shook his head, took early retirement, and moved to a state with low taxes and a balanced budget.

Six moons later the Slick-Salesman said that new super-duper firmware was ready and would only cost a few hundred thousand extra walnuts to install. The Slick-Salesman told the Chiefs that the vendor had Super-Smart Engineers and that new firmware was always better and always fixed everything. When the radios were updated the Indians could talk to each other with no static. But sometimes their radios only played a beautiful bonking song or stayed blissfully quiet, and they had trouble recognizing the other Indian’s voices. The Dispatchers had more trouble understanding Mumbles the Brave, especially when his faithful K-9 companion was barking.

The Slick-Salesman said that the Super-Smart Engineers were almost done re-re-re-revising the perfect AN-TEEK codec. The new re-re-re-revision would magically make Mumbles the Brave sound like a rock star (as long as he always remembered to turn away so his radio didn’t pick up his dog singing chorus, or other places, situations or conditions as determined by the vendor at any later date as allowed in the itsy-bitsy print incorporated by reference into Appendix Q-7013 of the initial contract).

The Indians still insisted on finding places where the shiny new radios only worked when they stood on their left foot during rush hour or on their right foot between midnight and 3AM, and other places where they only played the pretty bonking song or stayed blissfully quiet. The Slick-Salesman said that the Indians were just being silly and they should stop finding those nasty places, but maybe if the Chiefs put up one or two shiny new towers the Indians wouldn’t need to stand on one foot to talk. Each new tower would only be a quarter million walnut addition to the original contract. “But,” the Slick-Salesman added, “New is Always Better.” 

Many, many moons later, six shiny new towers were built (more new is always more better that fewer new) and when it worked the new system was almost as good as their stupid plain vanilla analog radio system and didn’t have any static, ever.

But the silly Indians kept going to the places where the shiny new radios only played the pretty bonking song or stayed blissfully quiet. Lots of the Indians wanted to keep their stupid plain vanilla analog radios handy too just in case, because they all new how to make sense of static-y voices. The Chiefs said that were just being silly, because New is Always Better and the shiny super-duper re-re-re-revised AN-TEEK codec would do that for them.

One day Bewildered County had a big y’all come party. They didn’t even plan it, it just happened and got super-big super-fast. Their silly neighbors didn’t have shiny new radios but came over to party and dance anyway. Since Bewildered County didn’t have enough walnuts left to buy extra shiny new radios, the neighbors and Bewildered Chiefs couldn’t talk to each other across the crowded dance floor. The Insolvent Ministry of Magical Communications had plenty of extra shiny new radios, and said they would be happy to bring them to the party. Their Magicians would work at government-break-neck-speed and be there sometime the next day. So in the mean time, the Chiefs had to run home and find their old stupid plain vanilla analog radios so they could talk to all the silly neighbors who didn't have their own shiny new super-duper radios, but came from miles around to the party anyway.

It was so sad. One of the Insolvent Inspectors was driving through Bewildered County while the Big Party was going on, but he couldn’t hear about it. He even had a wagon full of Party Inspectors and extra instruments. But since the Insolvent Ministry of Magical Communications didn’t let his shiny new radio hear the wonderful new Bewildered channel (listening to too many channels might damage their ears), and had thoughtfully taken out his old-fashioned stupid plain vanilla analog radio to make room in his horse-drawn wagon for a backup parachute (you can’t ever be too safe!), the Insolvent Inspectors didn’t even learn about the big Bewildered dance until they were at a distant Inn watching the 11:00 Town Crier.

The next day, the Slick-Salesman told the Bewildered Chiefs that if their silly neighbors got shiny new radios too, they could invite them over and talk to them at big parties. The Big Chief and the Slick-Salesman jumped in their carriage and drove over the river and through the woods to see the old-fashioned Chief of Prudent County. They told the old-fashioned Prudent Chief that their shiny new radios were the latest thing, and that he needed shiny new radios too so they could all party and dance together. “New is Always Better” they chanted in chorus, as the Slick-Salesman slid his proposal across the old-fashioned Chief’s desk with a grin, dreams of sugar-plumbs dancing in his head.

The Slick-Salesman told the Prudent Chief the shiny new radios only cost 5,000 walnuts apiece. “New is Always Better and everyone is doing it,” repeated the Slick-Salesman, ‘so it has to be right! We’ll write a grant proposal on behalf of all the Chiefs in Prudent County and they'll give us wagonloads of someone else’s walnuts. They grow on trees, you know. We'll even manage the grant walnuts for you!"”

The Prudent Chief exclaimed, ‘that’s a lot of walnuts! But since most vendors can do the Far-Far-Away Department of Kingdom Security Everything Must Work Together Standard I think I’ll ask a second vendor to bid on shiny new radios also.”

“Oh, No!” exclaimed the Slick-Salesman. “You can’t do that because our shiny new super-duper system handles super important battery life data in a special way that is so special we don’t let anyone else’s radios do it. We have more Brilliant Barristers and Squinty-Eyed Walnut Counters than we have Super-Smart Engineers and they all say the same thing. Besides, everyone knows that the other vendor’s elves all have big fingers and can’t build radios properly!”

When the Prudent Chief found out that the new super-duper system was so “special”, he offered to spend 10,000 walnuts to put a dim-witted gizmo in his old-fashioned system so he could bridge his stupid plain vanilla analog radios to the shiny new system in Bewildered County. The Slick-Salesman said that wouldn’t work either because the squinty-eyed accounts feared his stupid plain vanilla analog radio traffic might hurt the ears of the Indians using the super-duper shiny new system. “Besides,” the Big Chief added, “our Bewildered Dispatchers wouldn’t be able to see how much battery life your stupid plain vanilla analog radios have left.”

The old-fashioned Prudent Chief politely showed the Slick-Salesman and Bewildered Big Chief to the door and kept on using his stupid plain vanilla analog radio system that worked perfectly two thirds of the time but had a little static the other third. The old-fashioned Prudent Chief decided to have his Medicine Man re-program his stupid old radios with all of the stupid plain vanilla analog interoperable channels, got his Indians new antennas to reduce the static, and spent the 10,000 walnuts on twenty shiny-new stupid plain vanilla analog radios with extra batteries that he could loan to the Bewildered Chiefs and Indians when they came over to party in Prudent County.

The Prudent Chief did accept an offer from the Insolvent Ministry of Magical Communications for a few shiny new super-duper radios so his Dispatchers and Big Chiefs could talk to Bewildered County, the Big Department in Crooked County, the State of Insolvent, and the Men from Far-Far-Away, just in case his Prudent County fan ever started to turn brown.

After six moons of itsy-bitsy adjustments the shiny new system in Bewildered County worked perfectly 80% of the time, played that pretty bonking song 10% of the time and stayed blissfully quiet the last 10% of the time. The bonks and silence always happened in the silliest of places like down in a dungeon fighting dragons or when chasing trolls through the forest or when everyone got all bothered and excited. The Slick-Salesman said that 80% perfect was better that 66% perfect. They would learn to like the beautiful bonking music or perfect blissful silence instead of having to listen to imperfect voices with that nasty static. Everything was all perfectly fine and dandy with the Bewildered System because New is Always Better and all the other shiny super-duper systems did the same thing. The Slick-Salesman crossed his heart and promised that the vendor’s Super-Smart Engineers were working on it.

A few weeks later, one of the Bewildered Indians got a bad boo-boo because too many of the itsy-bitsy magical pieces got all jumbled up bouncing through the trees and over the hills on the way to his shiny new radio and it stayed blissfully quiet. The silly union sued the Chiefs because they thought the shiny new system was hazardous to the Indians' health. The Chiefs counter-sued because New is Always Better and the perfect re-re-re-revised AN-TEEK codec used the latest magical frog DNA to fill in any missing pieces. The ridiculous old judge made the Chiefs switch back to the stupid plain vanilla analog radio system that worked perfectly two thirds of the time but had a little static the other third until the case was settled.

The Slick-Salesman told the Chiefs not to worry “cause his super-Super-Smart Engineers were working on a super-new-new system that let two sets of Indians talk on the same channel at the same time, and because it was so super-new-new it would be even more-more-better because everything in their rosy perfect world always worked perfectly. The shiny super-new-new radios would also talk to the stupid plain vanilla analog radios that the silly old-fashioned Chiefs over in Prudent and Big Mountain Counties insisted on keeping. Each super-new-new radio only cost 7,500 walnuts, but the Slick-Salesman promised to give them a deal from the Insolvent State Contract.

Four years and seven million walnuts poorer, some of the Bewildered Chiefs looked at their bare walnut trees and the boxes of shiny new radios getting all dusty in the warehouse. They began to wonder if that stupid plain vanilla analog radio system that worked perfectly two thirds of the time but had a little static the other third, and let them talk to all their silly neighbors wasn’t so bad after all.


The End


Digital trunked radio problems in Charleston County, South Carolina

Posted on November 21st, 2010
For the past two years, officials from the cities in Charleston County, South Carolina have been telling me about the horrific digital radio issues they are experiencing. I haven’t previously written about the specifics at the request of the city officials who are working with the County to fix the problems.

Today an article was published in the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper about the ongoing problems.  Reporter Glenn Smith did a lot of digging, but barely scratched the surface of the magnitude of the problem.  I encourage you to read his article by clicking here.

Charleston County purchased its digital trunked radio system from Motorola in 2007 for approximately $17.5 million.  The system experienced problems from the start, but the issues became worse after it was upgraded in 2008.  Smith reports, “it became plagued with lost transmissions, strange noises, volume issues and gaps in service that have placed police, firefighters and civilians in jeopardy on several occasions.”  The County is now prepared to spend an additional $12 million to have Motorola upgrade the system again.  A third phase, also expected to cost millions, will be discussed in the upcoming budget year.

My theory is that Charleston County fell victim to Motorola’s marketing strategy.  It’s unlikely that Charleston County would have initially funded the full amount necessary to purchase a radio system with sufficient infrastructure to provide adequate radio coverage.  I believe Motorola sold the County enough equipment to get the system on the air and lock the County into its proprietary product line, knowing that coverage would be inadequate and enhancements would be essential.  Once the fledgling system was installed, the County had no choice but to buy add-on equipment from Motorola, without the benefit of competition from other manufacturers.  Motorola now has full control over pricing, contract terms, product support life cycle and its proprietary variants that may prohibit non-Motorola radios from being used on the system.   This is another example of brilliant marketing strategy, at the expense of first responder safety and our tax dollars.  Motorola has positioned itself for a long-term revenue stream from the Charleston County tax payers. Motorola can say “when” and “how much” while its client has virtually no alternative but to pay.

Some documents indicate County officials were complicit in making the decision to construct a radio system knowing that digital coverage would be deficient.  Why would County officials knowingly proceed with a project that industry experts and the vendor knew would not provide adequate coverage?

Please study this case in detail if you are involved in purchasing a public-safety radio system and care about reliable radio communication for first responders and being fiscally responsible with tax dollars.



The appearance of impropriety (part 9)

Posted on December 18th, 2010
The City of San Jose (California) city council convened on December 14, 2010 to consider the City’s continued participation in a Bay Area public safety broadband initiative known as BayWEB.  This $50M+ experiment tentatively funded with Federal broadband stimulus money has been marred in controversy since the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) staff arranged for an unethical partnership with Motorola without oversight by any duly elected body.


The appearance of impropriety (part 8)

Posted on December 12th, 2010
The most obvious impropriety at the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (Bay Area UASI) surrounds a $50+ million application for Federal grant funding to construct a broadband data communications network for public safety users.  City of San Jose and County of Santa Clara officials recognized the impropriety and took a firm stance to expose and oppose the questionable business practices of Bay Area UASI, the City and County of San Francisco and the County of Alameda.


The appearance of impropriety (part 7)

Posted on November 2nd, 2010
Evidence of corruption in the Bay Area UASI office headed by San Francisco’s Laura Phillips continues to mount. Yesterday StimulatingBroadband.com reported that the Santa Clara County Exec filed a formal request for a Federal investigation.  Details are available at StimulatingBroadband.com.


The appearance of impropriety (part 6)

Posted on October 23rd, 2010
The latest snag to hit the Bay Area’s troubled attempt to build a Motorola 700 MHz LTE system for first responders involves serious accusations about radio spectrum rights.  It appears that Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern may have acted beyond the scope of his authority in signing a spectrum lease agreement.   San Jose Mayor Reed says that he and his staff have been unable to find any indication of Ahern’s authority to sign the documents.  Furthermore, it appears that some agreements related to “Project Cornerstone” have been executed by government officials on behalf of “make believe” entities that don’t legally exist.

The documents that have been sent to me indicate strong evidence of political corruption and conspiracy to commit fraud in the Bay Area.

Read more about the spectrum-rights issue in Urgent Communications.





The appearance of impropriety (part 5)

Posted on September 29th, 2010
In August 2008 I first wrote about the appearance of impropriety at the Bay Area SUASI headed by former Motorola employee Laura Phillips.  Today an in-depth article appeared in the online journal “StimulatingBroadband.com” that offers a more detailed examination of the magnitude of the apparent misbehavior.

StimulatingBroadband.com 09/29/2010 San Francisco – The City of San Francisco has produced what is fast becoming regarded as the most controversial, problematic, and potentially illegal broadband stimulus award under the entire $7.2 billion federal program.

The local selection process which resulted in Motorola, Inc. (MOT) receiving a $50 million federal broadband stimulus grant on behalf of public safety agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area reveals questionable public procurement practices managed by  the administration of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

These problems are pointed to by the chief executives of the 2 largest governments in the region, as they call for suspension of the federal project award. It appears however that neither of the 2 current reviews of the award, 1 federal and 1 state, is scoped or resourced to examine the fundamental flaws evident in the selection process.

Click here to read the full article at www.StimulatingBroadband.com.

The following links are to my previous articles about impropriety at the Bay Area SUASI.

bullet The appearance of impropriety (part 1)
bullet The appearance of impropriety (part 2)
bullet The appearance of impropriety (part 3)
bullet The appearance of impropriety (part 4)










Several large fire departments in the U.S. have determined that digital radio systems are not suitable for use on the fireground. One of the most significant problems they have identified occurs when using digital radios in noisy environments. The computer software in the radio that converts the spoken word to digital data cannot adequately distinguish between human voice and noise. The voice is masked by the noise much worse than analog radios.

In response to this issue, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) created a Digital Problem Working Group (DPWG) to provide expert input to the National Institute of Standards and Technology which conducted tests in concert with NTIA to confirm the problem and identify potential solutions. The results of the study substantiated what the fire departments reported.

The NIST/NTIA tests were specific to the noises that could be expected at the scene of a fire or rescue incident, and focused on sounds from the following sources:


Fire truck pump panel


Firefighter Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) devices


In-mask low-air alarm


K12 circular saw


Chain saw

I believe this problem extends beyond the narrow scope of the noise sources that were tested by NIST/NTIA. Why would this problem be limited to radios used by firefighters and noises commonly heard at fire incidents? Similar problems could occur for police officers using digital radios in the following situations.


Low to moderate wind noise when a police officer is transmitting from a portable radio outdoors


Storm noise including wind and rain when a police officer is transmitting from a portable radio outdoors


Traffic noise when transmitting from a portable radio while standing outdoors next to a busy freeway


Transmitting from a mobile radio in a patrol car while a canine is barking loudly in the back seat


When transmitting from a handheld radio in the presence of a loud crowd of people or when loud music is present, such as rock concert


When transmitting from a mobile radio during a pursuit while siren noise is present

If you are a police officer or dispatcher and have personally experienced problems with digital radios in noisy environments, please click here to tell me your story.

Links to IAFC, NIST and NTIA documents related to the tests.


IAFC & NIST testing of digital radios confirms problems (May 2008)


IAFC - Portable Radio Best Practices (june 2008)


NTIA Technical Report TR08-453 (June 2008)

Related information:


Why some digital trunked radio systems are perceived as failures


The real difference between digital and analog…


Digital trunked radio system failures



Digital Radio Noise Problem: Best Practices Solicited


Fairfax, Va., June 21, 2007... The IAFC Digital Problem Working Group is actively working to identify the causes and potential solutions for the digital distortion some users of digital radio systems have experienced in high-noise environments. The working group currently has two task groups working on different aspects of the digital problem:


The Testing Task Group is working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to identify scenarios to be tested in an effort to objectively quantify the nature and scope of the problem and potential solutions.


The Best Practices Task Group is working to identify procedural and technical solutions departments may have successfully implemented to address the problem.

The Best Practices Task Group is soliciting input from users of radio systems that use digital modulation. The task group is interested in the steps user agencies have taken to address audio distortion problems they have experienced in high-noise environments. These practices may be:




technical adjustments to radio equipment


the use of specific radio accessories that have been found to work well minimizing or mitigating digital audio distortion

To submit a best practice online, go to
www.iafc.org/DigitalProblem and click on the “Submit a best practice” button.

Where appropriate, the Best Practices Task Group will forward the practices collected to the Testing Task Group for validation and optimization.

For more information on the digital noise issue, visit the IAFC website at www.iafc.org/DigitalProblem.



Common Fireground Noise May Cause Unintelligibility of Digital Radio Transmissions


Fairfax, Va., Mar. 20, 2007... The International Association of Fire Chiefs is alerting its members to a potential issue and soliciting their input to a solution. The IAFC has received reports of firefighters experiencing unintelligible audio communications while using a digital two-way portable radio when operating in close proximity to the low-pressure alarm of their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). In addition, other common fireground noise, including powered tools, apparatus and PASS devices, may affect voice intelligibility.

This is an industry-wide issue and is not specific to any one manufacturer’s radios. There are indications that any digital voice communication product utilizing parametric voice encoders could be affected by this problem. The IAFC does know the problem is not related to any specific radio spectrum, as it is not a frequency of operation issue, or a particular communication standard.

Due to these reports, the IAFC board of directors has asked the Communications Committee to form a working group to work with other IAFC committees and sections and other appropriate organizations to investigate and provide recommendations to address this concern. The specific focus of the group will be to:


Fully understand the facts and identify potential solutions that may be required.


Facilitate industry collaboration among the communications equipment manufacturers to explore options to mitigate or eliminate this concern.


Recommend best practices for digital portable radio use on the fireground.

The IAFC is asking you to contact the Communications Working Group if you have experienced similar issues. Go to
www.iafc.org/digitalproblem to learn more about the tests you can conduct to provide the working group the information it needs to study the issue and make recommendations.

Your input is vital to ensure that digital radio technology can be effectively utilized in fireground applications. The IAFC fully understands that many fire departments are using digital radio systems with success, but there may be issues related to voice transmission being interfered with or overridden when common fireground noise is in the background.

We appreciate your assistance in testing your systems and reporting back to us.



International Association of Fire Chiefs

Digital Problem

The IAFC is alerting its members to a potential issue and soliciting their input to a solution. We have received reports of firefighters experiencing unintelligible audio communications while using a digital two-way portable radio when operating in close proximity to the low-pressure alarm of their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Other common fireground noise, including powered tools, apparatus and PASS devices, may affect voice intelligibility.

This is an industry-wide issue and is not specific to any one manufacturer’s radios. There are indications that any digital voice communication product utilizing parametric voice encoders could be affected by this problem. The IAFC does know the problem is not related to any specific radio spectrum, as it is not a frequency of operation issue, or a particular communication standard.

Due to these reports, the IAFC board of directors has asked the Communications Committee to form a working group to work with other IAFC committees and sections and other appropriate organizations to investigate and provide recommendations to address this concern.

If you have experienced similar issues, the Communications Working Group needs to hear from you.



Interoperability: Stop Blaming the Radio

 by Ronald P. Timmons

An EXCELLENT white paper on the dual problems of communications systems that fail during emergencies


the personal dynamics of the failure of first responders to communicate properly during stressful situations.

17 page .pdf: timmonsoninteroperability-2007.pdf


A much longer (107 page) thesis from Mr. Timmons on why communications fail.


Concerns about inadequate radio communications at the scene of disasters predate 9/11, and have been a focal point of homeland security funding since 2001. Under the umbrella term “interoperability,” grant funding is facilitating the recent deployment of equipment to allow field personnel to patch radio systems together, with the expectation of immediate improvement of emergency scene communications dysfunction.

This thesis argues that there are numerous causal factors for inadequate disaster communications. Communications impediments include insufficient radio infrastructure, behavioral reactions by people in stressful situations, intergovernmental relations, inadequate procedures and training, and general lethargy over the need to institute special operating policies differing from routine practices.

The sole reliance upon technological solutions, without proportionate training and practice greatly reduces the effectiveness of radio patching equipment. Quite opposite from the intended effect, patching equipment, in the hands of those only minimally acclimated to radio system architecture, is likely to trigger unintended consequences of chaotic system overload (by combining two or more busy channels) and sector vulnerability (by combining unsecured general public systems with previously isolated public safety systems).

Our goal is to provide a thought-provoking examination of the entire realm of emergency scene communications issues and practical recommendations beyond superficial technological solutions.

107 page .pdf: rtimmons_thesis_2006.pdf



NFPA 1561

"Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System", or
How radios SHOULD work in the Fire Services.

Contact the N.F.P.A. for the most recent version of this standard.


A "Must Read" Article

SPECIAL REPORT - United States Fire Administration - Technical Report Series

Improving Firefighter Communications


Another "Must Read" Article





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Last modified: 10/21/13

IMPORTANT NOTICE:  It is imperative that public safety communications users NOT schedule any emergency incidents (fires, manhunts, floods, earthquakes, etc.) that require faster than a three-day response to allow for deferred planning, distribution of communications equipment, and training to be accomplished.  In some jurisdictions a local ordinance will be required to prevent unplanned emergencies.