More than a year has passed since the system went online in the county
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
The city of Motley recently installed repeater towers on top of City Hall to enhance the city’s 800 megahertz (MHz )radio signals.
While it has helped, Police Chief Brian Madison says the entire program is still not perfect.
“The Morrison County 800 MHz went online in November 2011,” said Madison. “It has taken until now to get Motley’s radios to work correctly.”
Three antennae have been installed to allow the radio signals to penetrate the walls of the city’s buildings. Before, the police and the firefighters were unable to receive messages on their portable radios if they were inside.
“Before the 800 MHz radios, we could hear messages crystal clear,” said Madison. “We all thought it was the steel or brick buildings hampering the signals when we changed, but even I couldn’t get service in my wood frame home.”
The extra towers, or antennae, move the signals through three different radios.
“The transmission from the Morrison County dispatcher goes into one of the antennae to the main radio in the office. It’s then transmitted to the second antenna and back into the office radio. From there it’s transmitted to the third tower to my portable radio,” he said.
The federally-mandated program went into effect after Sept. 11, 2002. Madison said the reason was that when a number of emergency personnel converged on the Twin Towers site in New York, the units’ radios could not communicate with each other because every group was on a different frequency.
Madison said he feels the change to the 800 MHz radios was a knee-jerk reaction to 9-11. He said it’s not a perfect fix and that not much has changed with the radios.
“But even with every emergency service now using the 800 MHz frequencies, we are still all on different channels,” said Madison. “I need to dial into one of three dozen zones with about 16 different channels per zone. To talk to another team, I need to choose the right zone and channel.”
Madison remembered an incident where a deputy was in pursuit through Motley and he did not know about it, even though he was sitting in his office.
“That deputy received no backup from me,” said Madison.
Madison feels that while it’s still not perfect, it’s a fix for now.
“We need a very tall tower in proximity to the city to alleviate more problems and that is unaffordable,” he said. “Without a grant in 2011, Motley would have had to spend $100,000 for radios.”
What Madison likes about the system is that the dispatcher in the sheriff’s office tells him what frequency to use if and when there is an incident utilizing other emergency personnel.
“Everyone responding uses the same frequency and are all able to communicate without interfering with Morrison County’s main frequency,” he said.