A well-educated end-user is the radio technician’s best friend
In the first article in this two-part series, we explored why proper end-user training is critical to the successful implementation of a new radio system and for the effective operation of an existing one.
In this article we’ll continue the discussion. Let’s start with coverage maps. Training always should include predicted coverage maps of the end-users’ operation area. These maps should also include overlays of actual coverage. If your agency does not have predicted and actual coverage maps of your system, consider hiring a qualified consultant to perform a new coverage analysis for you. If it has been several years since a coverage analysis was performed, consider doing another one. Coverage problems due to site equipment failure can be detected with this data. More importantly, your users can see where they have coverage and where they do not.
Providing coverage and system performance information in training helps you establish confidence with your users and sets system performance expectations. Rest assured, your end-users will find every coverage hole in the system that you maintain. You need to find these areas before they do and let them know where they have stellar coverage, minimal coverage and no coverage. Never forget, no system is designed to provide 100% coverage; while we’d like to think our system has 100% coverage, the physics of RF doesn’t allow it and users should never think otherwise. An officer who knows that he is initiating a traffic stop in an area with minimal or no coverage will take extra precautions and his situational awareness will be heightened.
Some localities are now requiring newly constructed buildings to contain bidirectional amplifiers, or BDAs. These systems are designed to provide first responders with coverage inside building areas that otherwise would have no coverage. Be sure that users know which buildings provide BDAs. And remember that when a building is on fire, it may have lost power — intentionally or unintentionally. If the BDAs uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is dead, it doesn’t work. Even worse is when the BDA is damaged but still is operational. An improperly performing BDA is a great jammer, a topic that is rarely discussed. Should first responders encounter one of these buildings, they need to know what they are up against.
End-users also should be taught proper battery care and maintenance for portable radios. In addition, RF energy safety should be covered; this often is skimmed over in the classroom. Because RF energy is non-ionizing radiation, prolonged exposure will adversely affect soft human tissue. RF energy also will burn tissue should a person come in contact with a mobile antenna or an exposed portable antenna. Modern radios are tested to a specific absorption rate (SAR), which ensures that the radio and authorized accessories will not overexpose users to unnecessary RF energy within acceptable occupational usage guidelines. This is important not only for safety, but also so that users understand why disassembly of the radio is prohibited and why certain unauthorized and untested accessories never should be used with the portable, as doing so could expose the user to excess RF energy.
Training should include helpful hints that describe how the user can get optimal performance from the radio. One topic for discussion concerns why a radio will not operate very far below grade. Be sure that users understand the concept of line of sight (LOS), as sometimes moving left, right, forwards or backwards only a few feet will make all the difference between a dispatcher hearing a user’s traffic or missing it. Educate the users on body absorption and attenuation so that they understand the difference between how a radio performs when it is on the user’s hip versus in the hand at an upper-body level. Never forget that almost every first responder now carries or has used a cellular phone, and most will understand any analogies you use to help them comprehend radio coverage.
Training should cover scan — how to use it and its pros and cons — as well as how to report coverage problems and other radio problems, and why periodic maintenance is important. Be sure to have a training program in place to educate newly hired personnel, and maintain a refresher course on-hand for those who require it—including radio system failure contingency SOPs. Ensure that the training presentation and material is clean, professional, concise and contains no cartoons. Use real, color photographs to describe topics. Remember, people are visual and a photograph is worth way more than a thousand words. Consider using short, non-busy, laminated cheat sheets made of good paper stock to convey concepts that are difficult to remember. These should be small enough to keep inside a vehicle, and durable enough to avoid damage.
Remember, knowledge is power and basic radio operation, programming contents, system operation, system failure contingency planning, system coverage, RF safety, helpful operational hints and problem reporting all go hand-in-hand to make end-user training the best it can be. Radio system manufacturers have great training programs and their end-user training services often are employed upon a new system purchase or for refresher training. Working hand-in-hand with the vendor’s training group will help to ensure that the correct information is conveyed to your users. But some agencies build their training programs from scratch. Regardless, no matter who develops or delivers the training, it should contain all the correct pieces.
Many argue that too much information will overwhelm the end-user and that there is not enough time in the classroom to cover everything. But a properly designed and delivered training curriculum can convey this information with ease and in a format that the end-users can understand and retain. A well-educated user base is the technician’s greatest ally and a properly educated user can better describe a problem to the technician. An uneducated user simply informs the technician that their radio is broken. Never forget that your end-users will make or break your system and proper education helps them make your job easier.
Ira Wiesenfeld, P.E., has been involved with commercial radio systems since 1966, and has experience with land-mobile-radio, paging and military communications systems. He holds an FCC general radiotelephone operator’s license and is the author of Wiring for Wireless Sites, as well as many articles in various magazines. Wiesenfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher Dalton has designed, staged and implemented virtually every kind of LMR system in his two-decade-long career, including conventional, trunked, simulcast, Project 25, single-site and multisite. He holds an FCC general radiotelephone operator’s license. Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.
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