Static disrupting emergency signals
STATE COLLEGE, Penn. — Some days, at the Alpha Fire Company on West Beaver Avenue, getting clear radio communication in the parking lot is a an exercise in frustration.
“We’ve have had problems for at least a year, some areas, two years now. It’s gradually getting worse,” Chief Stan Clouser said. “We either get poor reception, or it puts the radio out of service. If it puts it out of service, we can’t communicate at all; if it’s poor reception, you won’t hear what’s going on from either end.”
The “it” in question is interference, possibly from cellular phone towers. It may take any months before a solution can be found.
“It’s just so doggone complicated,” said Dan Tancibok, director of public safety for Centre County. “It’s not a matter of someone talking on my frequency. We are all on the frequencies we are supposed to be on, it’s just that they are causing interference with each other.”
Nextel Partners Inc., which operates the towers, and administrators in Centre County government say they are committed to finding a solution as quickly as possible.
The next step is conducting technical testing to see from where the interference is coming. Further action will be taken based on those tests.
Julie Taylor, area marketing manager for Nextel, said each situation merits its own analysis. No specific solutions can be offered at this time, she said, since the problem itself has not been clearly identified.
The Federal Communications Commission allocates frequencies. It happens that those given to public safety entities and some private wireless companies are located in the same area of the frequency spectrum — 800 MHz.
Because of the way communications with both cell phone calls and emergency personnel radio communication are routed, interference can occur.
Tancibok said that, based on reports from field users, reception near the intersection of Beaver Avenue and Atherton Street, at East College Avenue and the 322 bypass, and near the Nittany Mall has typically been bad.
Tancibok said the Beaver-Atherton intersection appears to be affected the most. Over the last nine months, there have been a significant number of times when there has been no ability to communicate, he said. The fire station is located at 400 W. Beaver Ave.
This issue does not affect the public’s ability to dial 911 from cell phones. It is limited strictly to the ability to communicate with personnel in the field — and only when they are in those areas.
So far, interference has only been a hassle for the fire company. But for Clouser, the what ifs” linger.
“For example, if we get a structure fire with entrapment, and if our chief officers on scenes can’t communicate with crews inside, we have to send another crew in to find out where that crew is and then bring everyone back. It might get to a point where we have to protect ourselves and not people entrapped,” he said.
Lara Brenckle can be reached at 235-3902.
(© 2001 centredaily and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.centredaily.com. Republished with permission.)