Back to basics
“Radioman” is well represented by the new Association of Public Safety Communications Officials-International president. Vincent “Vinnie” Stile joined the police force almost 40 years ago with the intention of working in the radio shop.
He has been doing it ever since, eventually becoming police radio communications system director for the Suffolk County Police Department, Long Island, New York.
He is chairman of the New York Metropolitan Advisory Committee, which deals with the concerns of radio spectrum as it affects first responders in New York and its surrounding areas.
He is also APCO’s local frequency adviser for southern New York state.
Stile assumed the role of acting president for APCO International after Thera Bradshaw resigned in March and will now begin his term in office as president at the annual APCO International Conference in Indianapolis this month. All APCO presidents start out as second vice president and move up the board of officers to reach president by their fourth year on the board.
Stile talks about the Suffolk County public safety radio system, how he got himself into running for APCO office and the big issues that APCO is facing during his upcoming presidency, including E911, 700MHz spectrum availability and the 800MHz consensus plan proposed by Nextel, APCO and several other associations.
Nikki Chandler: Tell me about your background. How did you get into communications?
Vincent Stile: I started communications — it was electrical work, electronics — in the Air Force. I had four years in the air force. When I left the service, I went into the RCA Institute — (another company now) — I got my first-class radio license. At the time it was still valid. Now, of course, it’s all general licensing.
I worked in the X-ray and dental X-ray equipment industry for awhile. And then went into the airlines and worked for them for awhile as a radio mechanic.
I got into the police force, Suffolk County Police force, in 1965, with the hope of getting into communications, which I did do. Within a year, I was put in charge of radio installations for Suffolk County Police.
NC: What position did you start at in the police force?
VS: I was a sworn police officer. I spent maybe a year out on the street. Then because of my license and schooling and background, I was asked to go into the radio shop, which was a fledgling.
Suffolk County police was at that time maybe only five years old. It was a combination of multiple police departments in Suffolk County joining together to become a county police — which we are a district police, more or less. We serve 600 square miles in Suffolk County.
In the radio shop, I was in charge of radio installations for all vehicles and then took over the installations of base stations. And instituted a change in the radio setup that we had in the county.
We started out with … Did you want to get into this kind of detail?
NC: Yes, for the sake of the technology.
VS: We started out with two frequencies in Suffolk County. With my effort and that of the chief technician at the time, Wesley Chupp, (some of your readers might know him), we worked to expand this system into a six-channel system, a six-frequency system, where we had a frequency per precinct. We originally started out breaking the county up into three sections. We had what we call West, Central and East.
But because of the trafficking and the loading that we had, very shortly within the next two or three years, we had to expand that to a channel per precinct. So we went into six precincts of individual frequencies per six precincts.
NC: What frequencies were you using?
VS: When I actually took over in the early ’70s, I realized that the VHF system was being inundated with a lot of interference and what have you, so I looked into the 800 system. I worked with APCO at that time and the NPSPAC [National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee] program, and with the group back and forth in DC, and we were very successful as you know. We acquired 22 channels of spectrum for Suffolk County Police, which we implemented in 1992 to put in a 20-channel trunked system, simulcast, with six sites.
It’s a SmartZone system that we had to expand coverage-wise to an eight-site system. And I’m putting in my ninth site as we talk. We’re expanding it just to get the coverage, the coverage that we needed. We have 95 percent in-street portable coverage. It’s spotty here and there, but it actually meets the criteria that we originally set up.
Along with that, to bring the information to the various precincts, we have a central location for dispatch in Yaphank. We have our headquarters in Yaphank. In fact, I was involved in the moving of headquarters in the latter part of the ’80s from Hauppauge. We had a small building in Hauppauge in Suffolk County, which is outside of Smithtown. We established a headquarters dispatch center out here in Yaphank in order to provide the information coming from the dispatch to the various precincts, which are now seven precincts. We utilized radio tie lines, but then we expanded our microwave system by negotiating with the PCN [prior coordination notice] people, back in the time when the FCC turned over those frequencies, the 2GHz frequencies, to PCN.
We negotiated with, back then it was Omnipoint, right now they’re T-Mobile, for 19 paths of microwave. I have 19 paths of microwave that allow us to put the audio here in Yaphank to the various different tower sites and broadcast the 800 system.
So we went online with that just prior to . So in 1999, I implemented a 19-path microwave system.
In 1992, we started the implementation of the 800 system.
Right now I also have 13 mobile data sites throughout Suffolk County that actually cover the 900 square miles of Suffolk County — a mobile data system throughout the county.
NC: And when did the mobile data system come online?
VS: That’s what I was trying to remember. I think it’s 2001 that we started that, and we started out with 200 units on the system. Right now, we have close to 500 units on the mobile data system.
NC: Wow, you really expanded that.
VS: Yeah, well as soon as you get that, everybody starts jumping on the bandwagon. We have 23 law enforcement agencies in Suffolk County — those are small hamlets and villages, and the state police are out here too — with the primary municipal police force for Suffolk County.
Actually, we’re between the 12th and 14th largest police department municipal police department in the country. So we rank up there pretty high.
On the radio system and mobile data system, we have the county police, plus as many of the local village police that want to be on that system. That numbers to about eight police agencies that are both on the 800 system with us and the mobile data system with us right now. So it’s truly a public safety system. It isn’t just for the county police. We’ve got as many as people as we can get on there.
NC: What about the fire department communications?
VS: We have the fire departments on a special talk group that’s controlled for fire, medics and emergency management services out of Yaphank here. So we couldn’t incorporate the fire departments onto the system. Otherwise, we would inundate the system.
NC: So are you interoperable with fire and EMS?
VS: We’re interoperable because we do have a talk group connection between the both of us. And the fire department, at least fire control, runs over our microwave system. We work pretty hand-in-glove with the fire departments as much as police and fire do or don’t talk to one another. We get along pretty well. Administrative-wise, we have a mutual concern, and that’s communications.
NC: Is this system an example of what you would like to do with the rest of the country?
VS: The way I see it, what we’ve done in Suffolk County, and I’m responsible for a good part of what’s happening, has been a team effort, no question about that. There’s no one person in this whole world who can just put things together. You have to have a team, and we have a very good team here in Suffolk County. The county police have been very foresighted and allowed me to be involved in spectrum management.
I’ve been a local frequency advisor since 1972. I took over for my predecessor, who was the chief technician, Wes Chupp, at the time. But I’ve been a local adviser for Southern New York state since about 1971, 72, thereabouts.
NC: How long have you been a member of APCO?
VS: Since about that time or just prior to that time. I joined as a result of Chupp asking me to join with him, and that was about 1970.
NC: How has your experience helped you in being an APCO officer?
VS: Let me also clarify something. I was a police officer from 1965 to 1985, so I put 20 years in as a police officer. In 1985, I retired as a police officer. The county police hired me back as director of radio communications because they thought I knew too much about their radio system.
But a good part of it has been my doings along with the crew that I have here. These are fantastic people. We’ve kept the system running, and I think that we have one of the top-notch radio systems — we can match anything else as a system.
Birth of the Triad
NC: So what is your vision for the rest of the country?
VS: As far as my vision for the rest of the country: Yes, we have a good situation here, but the locality and the type of systems the different parts of the country need depend on the their various coverage concerns. You go up-state New York, and yes, they’d like to put in an 800 system, but to a certain extent, it’s very costly.
Point being, if they become part of the statewide system that’s being proposed, it would cut down on the costs, and that’s got to be a concern. So as far as saying we need this for the rest of the country, this type of system and operation for the rest of the country, it would be great, but a lot of it is dictated by finances. I’ve been lucky to get the support of the legislators and, of course, the county police to allow me to do what I’ve been doing. But it’s difficult. If you don’t have the wherewithal to financially do what you need to do, you’re just not able to put it together. So that’s an important part of development of the system.
I’ve been working with IACP [International Association of Chiefs of Police], taking over for past president Glen Nash as a member of what we called the “triad” when we began the operation. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that.
NC: No, I haven’t. What is the “triad?”
VS: The “triad” is now called Collation for Improved Public Safety Communications (CIPSC). It’s a group of three of us. We’re the three members of a committee that takes in APCO, IACP and IAFC [International Association of Fire Chiefs]. I’m working with Alan Caldwell from the IAFC and Harlin McEwen from the IACP. APCO takes in all the disciplines: police, fire, EMS, forestry and all. Those are the disciplines that APCO represents, and we are the advocacy to the FCC for those various disciplines. IACP and IAFC have come to APCO for the technical aspects of communications. And that’s what we provide to the group.
The triad is now part of the SAFECOMM effort from out of the Office of Homeland Security. SAFECOMM is actually a federal initiative to bring in state and local government first responders. The three of us from the triad are part of the SAFECOMM effort because we are actually street cops, street firemen. Harlin McEwen is retired chief of police, Alan Caldwell is a firefighter, and I am a retired police officer.
So we are bringing the first responders’ input to the SAFECOMM effort. We’re looking at the efforts of individual agencies at the grassroots and then broadening that so that they can talk. First of all, they need to talk to one another. Then the next thing is broaden out and talk to your neighbor, and then when you get emergency situations that come up, outside agencies need to be able to come into your area and work with you.
NC: Your county has had to face some of these situations.
VS: We had a couple of situations as you probably remember. In Suffolk County, we had the [the crash of TWA Flight 800, July 17, 1996], which brought in people from all over. And we were working to a great extent on the 800 system. Actually, I was just implementing the 800 system when that happened.
We had what we call the “Sunrise” fires just prior to the TWA crash, which brought in firefighters from all over to assist us in containing that. Again, we utilized a portion of the 800 system back then — it was in its infant stages in implementation.
And of course the 9-11 incidents, where we were attacked. Suffolk County sent in 200 troops, 200 law people, police officers along with Nassau sending in 300 troops. What we needed to do was provide communications for our people as they traversed into the city.
And we’re in the process of expanding that right now by putting in an interop system that expands from Suffolk County into the five boroughs of New York City. We’re doing that with the 800MHz interoperability channels along with the special assignment given to New York Metro in the channel 16 band.
NC: So you have the spectrum to be able to do this expansion.
VS: We’re utilizing spectrum that is available to us right now. You know we’ve been complaining about not having enough spectrum, which is true. We don’t have enough spectrum to expand and do the things we need.
But realistically, we should try to work with what we have as we progress further. I mean, it’s senseless to sit there and wait for the spectrum to happen. It’s not happening fast enough. We can’t get that 700 fast enough. We just can’t sit and wait; we have things that we have to be doing.
NC: You’re waiting on the broadcasters to move off the 700MHz band. Do you think they’re going to move by the end of 2006?
VS: Actually, we’re looking for some help from Congress on that. We would hope that it would mandate that they do move and that the 2006 date would be a mandated date. It’s a caveat — television stations on those channels can remain there until 85 percent of the households in the broadcasters’ listening areas have the ability to receive digital television signals. Point is, that may not happen.
I mean, have you bought a digital television set yet?
NC: No, I haven’t.
VS: It’s kind of difficult. I don’t want to do anything to hurt the broadcast industry, because they have a lot more money than we have.
But the point is, they could possibly move to their assigned channels, and go analog first and stay with the analog system until they can actually move over to the digital system. So they’ve got an assignment that was given to them by the [Federal Communications Commission] and when they go digital, they wind up having a gold mine in their hands because they can do a lot more with the digital. They can put a television station along with some paging information that they want on that same spectrum that they have, so it’s quite a wide band that they have.
NC: So it’s important that public safety does have access to 700MHz sooner …
VS: There’s an immediate need. And when I testified before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications two or three weeks ago, I indicated that if you would allow us to bring public safety down to 803 MHz to 806 MHz with the 800 consensus plan, right up against 700 — making it contiguous with the 700 — you would have an area where public safety could migrate (see sidebar). It’s not going to happen overnight because of the costs involved.
But over a period of time, and with the understanding that we’re eventually going to go all digital, with the narrowbanding and what have you, public safety could operate very well in that spectrum.
Eventually the small agencies that can’t immediately move to that spectrum will be able to do that, planning-wise. I’m not saying that all public safety will move off to the HF, but I would say a majority will. And the major departments probably will.
So if Congress works with us and helps us to get that 700; and if the FCC, in its wisdom, allows us to implement the consensus plan, we would have contiguous operation.
NC: So APCO is putting a lot of pressure on Congress for 700MHz and the FCC for the Nextel consensus plan?
VS: There’s a lot of talk out there that some of the public safety entities are not in favor of the 800MHz consensus plan. But that’s not true.
Maybe early on, there was quite a bit of doubt about it, but what I believe is happening is that they’re realizing that the 800 consensus plan is probably the most logical plan to move ahead.
There were about nine different plans put in prior to this. We got together with the commercial people and actually Nextel, as well. I was at one of the first meetings with Nextel when they made their presentation to APCO, the IACP and the IAFC. And I had heartburn after that because I agreed.
But, looking at it, and taking the broad picture of everything and the needs of public safety, this is a logical thing to do.
NC: Will the consensus plan solve the interference problems that public safety is experiencing in the 800MHz band?
VS: The consensus plan will, in fact, solve a lot of the problems. Interference is always going to be there; you’re never going to get rid of interference. But the major problem that we have right now with the cellular people is being caused because we’re interleaved with them. We’re right on top of one another. And that’s to the fault of no one, other than the fact that we evolved that way. We’re not throwing bombs of blame at anybody.
We need to do something to correct it. The further we get away from the cellular people and cellular operations, the better we will be. The operation of cellular puts RF on the street, closer to the portable operations that public safety is enamored with.
I introduced the first portables in Suffolk County in the early part of the ’70s. And it was only an experiment.
Well, when the testing period was over, I couldn’t take those radios away from the cops. That’s how important portable operation is in the street. With the RF that the cellular people are putting into the street, that’s where we’re having a big part of our problems. That’s the interference problem.
The cellular people are as important as the need for modernization of the world we’re in. Cellular operation will not go away. It’s totally important that anybody can have a cell phone and operate anywhere in this country. Everything works into one another. This industry is not so sophisticated that we have individual issues that are completely isolated from one another. They are so intertwined.
Maybe I shouldn’t say it’s not sophisticated, because that’s the farthest from the truth. But the point is, everything blends into one another. So it’s very important that we keep an overall picture in mind.
NC: What is the status of the consensus plan? Is the FCC still taking comments?
VS: I believe the FCC is trying to sort out the various inputs that they are getting. They’re getting hit with the “balanced plan,” which really isn’t a balanced plan. It doesn’t balance anything. It’s talking about best practices. The balanced plan is being proposed by UTC. It says that best practices will eliminate a lot of the problems.
The point is, I’m going to have a police officer or a firefighter hurt because of interference problems, and now we’re going to go back and say “OK, what do we have to do to correct that problem, because we’ll be where we are right now?”
Well, that’s after the fact. What we’re trying to do is eliminate the fact before it actually happens. So if we can eliminate a good part of the interference before we have a situation at a particular location, that’s what we want to do.
NC: How important is it that E911 be implemented everywhere?
VS: You’ve heard so many cases where in cellular operation, we couldn’t find the person. And life is the cost. That’s the reason we are so adamant about having that available to the public. The public, to a certain extent, if you talk about location with a cellular phone, they didn’t realize…
NC: You mean the public does not realize that we don’t have location capabilities with cell phones? They just assumed that you can locate them if they call with their cell phone.
VS: Just like a wireline phone, sure. We know where they are when they call from a fixed phone. But with a cellular phone, I don’t think they realize that we don’t have a location. And that’s what we’re looking for. The PSAPs need to have that information for emergency purposes in order to locate the individuals that are calling.
NC: For so long people didn’t have cellular phones, and now they do, so many more lives could be saved because the technology is available.
VS: The technology is there. It needs to be implemented. There are a number of issues to take into consideration of course, including the cellular people, along with the PSAPs, along with the local area exchange. All those different entities come into play here, and it’s important that everybody gets together and makes this happen. APCO has been working on the issue since 1992, along with NENA [National Emergency Number Association].
I heard over in Europe that hunting dogs get location devices put on them because they’re so valuable. They don’t want to lose them in the woods. I thought that was a very anecdotal but comical thing. I said, “My God, if they can find dogs, why can’t they find humans?” And it should be something that should be available to our public, for the public safety purposes.
NC: Didn’t the deadline already pass for carriers to implement E911?
VS: The deadline was for October 2001. They got extensions; they got waivers. APCO has been adamant about [not] extending waivers and what have you. And it’s understandable that there are other issues besides the cellular people getting the information into the hand-held devices. There are a lot of hand-held devices out there that you’ll have to exchange or do something with. So there’s no question about it, it’s a money issue. At least from where I’m seeing it.
There are also other issues about the LECs and then the PSAPs being ready. The PSAPs themselves have to get ready, which is something very important. Here in Suffolk County, we’ve expended our own money, to get ready for this Phase II. In fact, we’re just now starting online with Verizon. I think 30 percent of their calling public has location devices, and that’s what they’re going to meet when they actually come online. I think we’re testing with them right now. So, various things are happening across the country.
A lot of success stories are out there, and that’s one of the things that APCO started with the Public Safety Foundation of America. It’s a grant provider to PSAPs to help them implement Phase II. So far, we’ve had two grant awards. The first one was for $3.2 million to 29 agencies throughout the country. And this next grant award is going to be to 50-some odd agencies. It’s approximately the same amount of money. These monies have been awarded to the foundation through the Nextel Readiness Foundation.
So we’re acquiring this money to assist PSAPs to get ready for the E911 implementation.
NC: Is the new deadline 2005 for the carriers?
Project 25 update
NC: What is the status of Project 25?
VS: Actually, we finished Phase I to develop the basic operation of radio. It’s a digital radio component in narrowband. Right now it’s at 12.5 [kHz]. And actually Project 25 has been considered the standard for the 700 frequency band. Craig Jorgensen of APCO, along with many of our technical group from the spectrum management committee, have been working on P25 since its inception. And I think now we’re coming up with requirements for trunking systems for the use of P25.
NC: Would a Project 25 trunking standard compete with any other trunking protocols?
VS: No. It’s a protocol we’re looking at for the needs of public safety. We’re not in competition with any commercial entity. It’s a different way of operating, a different way of processing information. I guess the next closest operating system would be the European’s TETRA system. But we’re not really in competition with them; it’s just that what we feel public safety needs here in North America.
APCO advances, lessons
NC: Are there any other issues that APCO covers that you would like to mention?
VS: The only thing I’d like to say is that this year, we were very successful in opening our Washington office. That’s at 1725 DeSales Street in D.C. We’ve hired Robert M. Gurss as our legal and government affairs counsel. We have a communications affairs officer in D.C.
We are also having a gala opening in September, so we’d like to get the federal people with more of an advance notice.
We opened up June 19. So we’re just making an official opening the [July] 17th. We’d like to do a better job of that in September so we can have the federal people come in: the FCC, Congress, whoever would care to come and see us.
NC: What made you decide to run for APCO office?
VS: That’s an interesting story. I’ve been involved with APCO since the early ’70s, and I’ve been a frequency adviser, spectrum manager, so to speak, for all those years. And I go to conferences every year. A couple of times I’ve taken my grandson to the conferences.
He’s now in the Marines, by the way.
And he says “Grandpa, you’re so involved in APCO, you should run for office.”
I said, “No, I’m not on the political side that much, I’m more of a technical person.”
He kind of said, “Do it, do it.”
Actually, the [APCO] Atlantic chapter was very supportive of having me run. And I have to hand it to the Atlantic chapter for asking me to do it-and I kind of have a hard time saying no a lot of times. That’s my problem, but they asked me to do it, and I said, “All right, if my department that I’m working for would authorize it, then fine.”
And I got approval from Commissioner John Gallagher and Chief of Department, Joseph Monteith. And the department itself supported the request. They had to sign a paper that said they would support me, and it was actually very official. The Atlantic chapter was the primary source for asking me, and I accepted. Then of course, with the support of the Suffolk County police, that’s what actually put me over the hurdle.
NC: Have you learned a lot since you’ve become second vice president?
VS: Oh, it’s an education, I want to tell you. Somebody said to me one time that becoming an officer of any association, but especially the APCO association, in communications, is like going for a masters degree-because of the various issues that you get involved with. Internationally, I can’t forget about my brothers over there in Great Britain. Ken Mott, the international VP, great friend, great guy, has been working with us for a number of years. Up in Canada now — the affiliate we have up in Canada — is a great group of guys that I’ve been working with. Australia has a chapter right now. It’s a fledgling right now, They’re trying to get big enough so that they can become an affiliate. We’re looking at people from Mexico coming up, wanting to become an affiliate with APCO. I’m trying to remember the number of countries that are involved. I think there are 37, if I’m not mistaken.
NC: So APCO truly is international, then.
VS: If you take the oath of office, it’s quite an accomplishment, it’s a proud day. I’m following in the footsteps of people that have been past presidents and board officers that have been doing some fantastic work. You just hope you can measure up to some of the work that they’ve done. Of course, they truly are great leaders in the public safety arena.
I can’t say enough about Glen Nash, past president. He’s an engineer and has taught me so much about communications and other aspects of the association that we have to worry about … Craig Jorgensen, another past president … Sam Gargaro, who’s really my mentor. If anything, he was the one, along with the Atlantic chapter who said: “Vinnie go for it.” I have to thank Sam for putting me where I am, I guess. Steve Proctor, a past president … Jack Keating, I mean I can’t talk enough about some of these people … Joe Hanna, past president … Joe McNeil, Atlantic chapter, past president. All these people have been somewhat an inspiration, so to speak, or people that have inspired you to move on, do something more. APCO’s given me a lot. Because of my affiliation with APCO, I think that Suffolk County Police has reaped the benefit of my involvement.
I feel like I’m doing Radio 101 when I get a new boss coming in. And what I show them is a radio. I put a portable radio on the desk, and I say, “There isn’t one thing in that radio that APCO hasn’t had something to do with.”
And that’s the truth, I mean, even to the knobs on the radio.
NC: That’s quite a statement.
VS: It’s absolutely true. We have something to say about everything that goes into that radio-to the actual frequencies that are being transmitted. But that’s what we’re all about.
NC: Are there any goals, besides what we’ve talked about that you would like to accomplish for yourself or for the association?
VS: Actually, we’ve got enough on our plate right now. I’d hope if we can accomplish the location device in the cellular phones, if we can accomplish 700, get that squared away, if we can get the consensus plan approved, I think those are fantastic goals to be able to do. If I could be a part of that, I’d be very pleased with myself.
NC: What are your plans for after your tenure as APCO president?
VS: I’ve been able to retire now for a couple of years. The only reason I haven’t is because I took on the board of officers and I stayed on. Actually, I’ll probably retire afterward. But I’m going to stay active in APCO, and I’ve been asked to do some RF work, consulting work. But it’s nothing that I can put my finger on. I haven’t decided anything yet, other than spending more time with my wife. APCO’s taken me away from her for quite a bit these past couple of months. And she knows in the next year, I’m going to be on the go quite a bit, but she’s been very good with that. My wife’s name is Connie.
NC: The APCO presidents do stay involved, so I knew there would be a certain amount of that afterward. Commissioner [Michael] Powell is going to be giving an address, is he actually going to be there?
VS: He’s going to be there. I think that’s great. We are so very honored to have him there. I think that Commissioner Powell recognizes that APCO is public safety. With that, he’s willing to come and spend some time with us, which I think is phenomenal. We are the voice of public safety.
NC: It seems like after Sept. 11, people are starting to take notice of the importance of public safety communications.
VS: Sept. 11 brought out a lot of situations and various concerns about public safety and of course, part of that was communications. And communications is always a vital part of any emergency operation. With the way technology is today, there’s no reason in the world why we can’t have here in the United States the best possible communications available for every police, fire and EMS agency. With the help of the federal government, we may be able to do that. They’re willing to give us grant money, and what we need to do is put it to our best use.
NC: Do you know how much federal money has been earmarked for interoperability communications? I haven’t been able to pinpoint a consistent amount.
VS: It’s all over the ballpark. You can’t put a finger on it. Whoever you talk to today from different parts of federal government, they say this amount of money is in there. You have to go out and look for it. One of the things that APCO is looking to do is sponsor a symposium series on the 800 interference situation. If the consensus plan is approved, we’re going to sponsor a series on that so everybody understands what it’s all about.
And we also want to host a series on grant applications, or applying for grants and how to do that.
APCO President Stiles brings spectrum needs before House subcommittee
On June 11, Vincent Stile addressed the U.S. House of Representatives committee on energy and Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the internet.
An excerpt from that testimony follows:
“Police, fire, EMS and other first responders face many challenges as they strive daily to protect the safety of life, health, and property, especially in today’s uncertain world. They cannot begin to tackle those responsibilities without effective radio communications capabilities. Public safety agencies must have reliable communications among their own personnel in the field and, increasingly, with personnel from other agencies and jurisdictions responding to the same emergencies. To do so, they need the financial resources to build and maintain state-of-the-art radio systems, and they need sufficient and appropriate radio spectrum on which those systems can operate. This latter problem, regarding radio spectrum, will be the focus of my testimony today.
“Unfortunately, in much of the nation there is simply not enough radio spectrum allocated to accommodate public safety requirements. For example, in the New York City area, there are no channels available for new or expanded public safety radio communications operations in any of the three main frequency bands in which public safety mobile radio systems operate: VHF (150-170 MHz), UHF (450-470, 470-512 MHz), or 800 MHz. Thus, many agencies are forced to (a) operate dangerously overcrowded radio systems; (b) share channels with other agencies and face the potential for interference, (c) forgo deployment of state-of-the-art communications tools such as mobile data or trunking technology, and (d) operate their radio systems on diverse, incompatible radio frequency bands.
“As a current example, the court system for New York State presently needs a pair of VHF frequencies for their law enforcement officers to operate in the Criminal and Superior Court Buildings within New York City. Right now, they are forced to share radio frequencies utilized by the city of New York. While those agencies cooperate in the sharing of the frequency, the arrangement places significant constraints on their operations.
“This lack of radio spectrum has existed for many years in the New York area. For example, over 10 years ago, the Garden City, New Jersey, Police Department was unable to find a public safety channel, but I was able to secure their use of a VHF business radio frequency. While that worked for awhile, business users are now creating interference problems for the Police Department’s radio system. Similarly, the City of Newark, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, is in dire need of a single radio frequency to be used as an input frequency to a citywide radio system. The frequency presently in use is subject to constant interference, but no alternative channels are available…
“One of the many consequences of insufficient radio spectrum is the lack of effective interoperability among first responders in the field. Often, the police, fire, EMS and other public safety personnel responding to an emergency are from different agencies or jurisdictions. All too often, these first responders cannot communicate with each other. This lack of “interoperability” has many causes, but is often the result of agencies being forced by spectrum shortages to use a variety of incompatible public safety frequency bands.
“For example, the Suffolk County Police Department operates on 800 MHz frequencies while fire, EMS, and some police departments within the County operate on either VHF or UHF frequencies. Similar variations occur in neighboring Nassau County, and within New York City. There are not even enough channels to create a cross-band patch, let alone sufficient spectrum for a wide-area, multi-agency system in a single frequency band. Again, this is a common problem in many areas of the country.
“The spectrum problems that I have described are not new. In 1996, the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee (PSWAC) concluded that public safety users would need an additional 97.5 MHz of spectrum by 2010. Among the specific recommendations of the PSWAC Report is that 24 MHz of spectrum from the 746-806 MHz band (TV channels 60-69) be made available within five years of the Report. Ironically, the PSWAC Report was adopted on Sept. 11, 1996. Exactly five years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, that spectrum was still not available nationwide.
“The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 did require the FCC to allocate an additional 24 MHz of radio spectrum for public safety services, and the FCC subsequently did its part and reallocated to public safety 24 MHz of spectrum from TV channels 63, 64, 68, and 69 (764-776/794-806 MHz). However, the 1997 Act allows television stations on those and other relevant channels to remain on-the-air until Dec.31, 2006, or until 85 percent of households in the relevant markets have the ability to receive digital television (DTV) signals, whichever is later.
“I want to emphasize that merely speeding up DTV deployment to meet the 85 percent benchmark is not enough.
Therefore, we urge Congress to establish Dec. 31, 2006, as a firm and final date for TV stations to vacate the specific channels that block public safety use of the 700 MHz band spectrum allocated as a result 1997 Balanced Budget Act.
“As I mentioned earlier, 800 MHz is among the frequency bands in which public safety channels are no longer available in much of the nation. Unfortunately, the 800 MHz band is also subject to severe interference problems caused by the commercial cellular operations of Nextel and other wireless carriers. APCO has joined with other public safety and private wireless organizations and Nextel, to create the “Consensus Plan” to address both of these problems. Not only would the Consensus Plan eliminate most of the interference problems, it would also create additional public safety channels in the 800 MHz band. Those additional channels are especially important right now, insofar as they would provide badly needed spectrum capacity in markets where the 700 MHz band spectrum remains blocked by TV station operations.”