Georgia County Government - January/February 2012 - (Page 26)

Feature Georgia Public Safety Radio Systems Must Transition to Narrowbanding By Mark Hodges O 26 n January 1, 2013, public safety and other government agencies throughout the nation must begin operating land mobile radio systems on channels half the size of the current bandwidth. This narrowbanding initiative, mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will affect all jurisdictions that use VHF or UHF communications equipment in the 150 to 512 MHz range. This category includes most public safety and other government radio systems in the State of Georgia. Narrowbanding is being introduced because of the increased crowding in the 150-512 MHz radio spectrum. To allow room for anticipated growth, the FCC is reducing channel bandwidths from 25 kHz to 12.5 kHz. The transition will not be automatic or, in all cases, inexpensive. “Local governments will need to expend time and money to ensure that their radio systems are equipped for narrowbanding,” says Jay Sexton, a senior research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute who is assisting the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security (GEMA/ HS) with the Statewide Communications Interoperability Planning (SCIP) process. GEORGIA COUNTY GOVERNMENT According to Sexton, public officials should meet soon with public safety and other agencies reliant on radio communication to “discuss budgets and timelines needed to meet the December 31, 2012 deadline while addressing the technical and operational issues arising from narrowbanding.” These assessments will allow jurisdictions to determine the kinds of changes needed to become compliant with the narrowbanding mandate at an acceptable performance level. Most newer land mobile radio systems can operate in either the 25 kHz or 12.5 kHz mode, but older equipment will need to be replaced. Agencies also will need to apply for new narrowband licenses or modify current licenses. “If you ignore the mandate, the FCC can shut down your system and fine you for violating your license,” Sexton says. “If you address the issue but wait too late to become compliant, you may run out of time due to the unavailability of trained radio technicians to upgrade your system.” In any case, detailed planning is essential for agencies to meet the FCC mandate while maintaining acceptable radio system performance. Narrowbanding results in a three-decibel signal loss, so communications systems that aren’t carefully designed could lose up to 40 percent of their radio coverage area. To mitigate such shrinkage, agencies could consider purchasing new digital systems or installing new antenna sites. Another important element for planners to consider is that, at some undetermined date in the future, the FCC will reduce public safety radio bandwidth yet again to 6.25 kHz - or ultra-narrowband. “Some digital systems are available now that counties can buy that meet current and future requirements,” Sexton says. “However, they are proprietary systems that could hinder interoperability with adjoining counties.” In Georgia, radio systems of any kind can communicate with each other through the Georgia Interoperability Network (GIN). More information about the GIN system is available at www.niix.org. ■ Mark Hodges is a Senior Research Associate at the Georgia Institute of Technology Research Institute. He may be reached at mark.hodges@gtri.gatech.edu or (404) 407-6987. For more information Spectrum management, licensing and compliance information: Ralph Bevan, State Frequency Coordinator, Georgia Technology Authority Email: ralph.bevan@gta.ga.gov Phone: (404) 656-2042 General questions, planning, grant funding information: Nick Brown, State Interoperability Coordinator, Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security Email: nick.brown@gema.ga.us Phone: (404) 624-2359 http://www.niix.org http://www.accg.org

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia County Government - January/February 2012

President’s Message
Director’s Desk
Guest Editorial: Together We Stand
Harris County: Smart Investments Paying Dividends for the Future
EMS Delivery Models in Georgia
How New EMS Technologies are Improving Patient Care
Regional EMS: Opportunities for Better Service and Lower Costs?
EMS Leadership Course Planned
Washington D.C. Update
Georgia Public Safety Radio Systems Must Transition to Narrowbanding
Fulton County Public Works Recognized with APWA Accreditation
Extension News: Teens Solving Community Problems
News & Notes
Index of Advertisers

Georgia County Government - January/February 2012

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