District upgrades radios per new FCC requirements

Sean C. Morgan

School District 55 is in the process of upgrading its bus radio system to meet Federal Communications Commission requirements.

“There was a mandate in 2011 that all agencies were going to have go narrow band,” said Dave Goetz, district transportation supervisor. “It was mandated to take effect in January 2013, so I have been working a bit slowly on this.”

The district missed the requirement, Goetz said, and he takes responsibility for it. He has been working on it since the fall.

Narrow banding is required to help limit congestion in the limited UHF and VHF frequency bands. Channels are narrowed to create more voice paths on existing channels, supporting more users.

“I’ve been talking to other companies about the cost, benefits about it, what it’s going to entail, what we need to do,” Goetz said.

Day Wireless, which handles radio communications for Sweet Home Police Department, has bid approximately $45,000 for the upgrades, Goetz said. The project will replace the transportation system’s dysfunctional radios. Upgrading those radios isn’t cost-effective.

“They’re 14 years old, inefficient,” Goetz said.

The new state-of-the-art radios will transmit much better than the existing radios, Goetz said, and trip buses will be able to communicate from as far away as Spokane.

The state will reimburse 70 percent of the funds to upgrade the radio system, Goetz said.

The Police Department and Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District are already operating on narrow-band radios.

The Police Department upgraded its system six years ago, said Police Chief Jeff Lynn. Sweet Home also has the ability to use digital, but the technology isn’t good enough to get quality, clear signals.

“We’re all narrow-band,” said Fire Chief Mike Beaver. “That was required Jan. 1, 2013.”

Like the Police Department, the fire department is operating on analog signals.

Sometime in the future, there may be a mandate to narrow the bands again, and that would require agencies to start using digital transmissions, Lynn said. But no one has a good idea when that will happen.

The district is hoping to use the Police Department’s transmission tower, Goetz said.

Lynn said that’s something the department would have to look at when it receives the request.