Approaching the unknown: The 800MHz system management position
Oversight of the implementation and operation of an 800MHz trunked radio system requires an adept,’on-site’ person who is both familiar with the hardware and capable of administrative tasks.
Making the transition from a small system to an 800MHz trunked system can be intimidating. Certain measures should be taken when upgrading a communications system, including taking on a qualified system manager.
As our population grows and as emergency operations become more complex, public safety organizations must upgrade their communication systems to serve more users. The radio spectrum is limited, and this has led to the use of trunked radio systems. These computer-controlled radio systems allow numerous departments to share and converse on one common system. The increased operational complexity of such systems requires the establishment of a new position: systems manager.
Life was simpler with conventional systems composed of building blocks where errors or changes could be easily made. The investment in conventional systems was small. Life is no longer simple. The trunked systems are extensive and complex, and the investment is embedded. With an embedded investment, planning and management are key. The complex radio systems have now taken on the characteristics of utilities. Utilities need system managers.
Manager duties and responsibilities 1. The system manager is the “on-site” person who manages the system. He stays abreast of the implementation activities and decisions made from the beginning of the project. 2. Until equipment arrives, the system manager prepares for the radio programming and training sessions. The system manager follows the project’s progress with regular monthly meetings. 3. The system manager coordinates and monitors equipment installation. 4. The system manager’s position may or may not be full-time. Other responsibilities may be added to the system manager’s duties. 5. The radio system requires continuous database management, mainly upgrading radio ID numbers. These numbers coordinate the individuals with the radios. When the radio is in use, the numbers appear on the dispatcher’s screen and on the screen of the radio. This feature is particularly important in the case of an emergency alert. If the database is not correct, the emergency alert will fail as a result of inaccuracies. Database errors are a result of people changing jobs and keeping the same radio or trading radios. Correcting the errors adds to this already time-consuming activity. The more radios on the system, the more time-consuming the system manager’s job becomes. 6. Achieving a high-system state of readiness is critical. The system manager ensures that preventive maintenance is performed and manages the maintenance database. The system manager is responsible for visually surveying the system’s antenna sites. Tower anchors must be monitored for corrosion. Corrosion and deterioration increase with depth. Slight surface deterioration should be viewed as a serious omen. 7. Some of the auxiliary responsibilities and duties that may be included in the system manager’s position are: * orienting new hires about using the system. * antenna site rental to others. * landlord relations. * FCC and FAA liaison and keeping licensing current. 8. Depending on the configuration of the system, routine inspection and testing of in-building enhancers or tunnel systems may be required. Building enhancers are free-standing subsystems that allow radio waves to be retransmitted inside structures or shielded areas. Typically, enhancers do not have self- diagnostic, alarm or self-monitoring functions; therefore, they need to be verified periodically to ensure the security of tunnel systems and transmission lines. 9. One of the greatest challenges in an 800MHz system is fleet mapping (initial and update). Fleet mapping involves assigning radio talkgroups to departments, giving or denying access to other department’s radio groups. No matter how well someone understands any organization and operation, fleet mapping is difficult and most often is not completed on the first try. In most cases it takes three or four adjustments to complete a system map. System mapping has to be customized for each system. The system manager acts as the teacher, tutor and landlord to each department head. Each department must determine who is in each talkgroup and who, outside the talkgroup, has access to it. 10. Serving as the mutual aid coordinator (communicator with neighboring jurisdictions) is part of the system manager’s job. The task includes being the liaison and facilitator with all of the neighboring or even non-neighboring jurisdictions. When a rescue unit enters a neighboring jurisdiction, mutual aid or resource agreements allow for that unit to temporarily transfer to the management of the neighboring jurisdiction. 11. The system manager communicates with local administrators to keep abreast of changing concerns.
Personnel profile requirements The system manager’s position is a hybrid, requiring a person who is organized, motivated and able to work with hardware, technical, computer and administrative aspects. By its very nature, the job has diverse duties. The position requires experience or awareness in several key areas. Technical training, user training, dispatcher supervision and administrative experience are beneficial but not critical. The candidate must be flexible. A successful candidate does not necessarily have to fulfill all of these criteria but should have experience in at least some of these areas and be willing to learn new skills.
Implementation Trunked system implementation is typically a phased process: * Phase One: needs, requirements and alternates_laymen’s report. * Phase One A: decisions and funding direction given. * Phase Two: procurement_signed vendor contract. * Phase Three: implementation_substantial use and possession. * Phase Four: claims resolution and warrantee monitoring.
Signed contracts for these systems typically are executed without either party being truly in a position to perform. This dictates the need for a Notice-to-Proceed clause. It is in this period that site access, FAA approval and FCC licensing are obtained and workers are assigned to the project.
Once all licenses and approvals are in place, the vendor and buyer are ready to implement the Notice-to-Proceed clause, giving permission to start the project. At this time, the system manager should be assigned.
After the Notice-to-Proceed clause is signed, the system manager is needed for project management, employee training, acting as a liaison and a mutual aid coordinator as well as completing routine inspections. The system manager has many responsibilities; however, the scope and complexity may vary, depending on the size of the system and the needs of the jurisdiction.
With preparation and a dedicated system manager, the transition to a new radio system can be a smooth, enjoyable experience.
Griffin is president of Frederick G. Griffin, P.C., a nationwide consulting firm in Lynchburg, VA. He is a member of APCO, NENA, the Radio Club of America and past president of the Association of Federal Communications Consulting Engineers.