Radio interference causes confusion

Posted Aug. 26, 2010, at 10:27 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:37 a.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A Piscataquis County sheriff’s deputy made 12 attempts last week to make radio contact with his communications center without success because of interference.

That interference, according to Dave Roberts, Piscataquis County’s telecommunications director, stems from the fact that Sagadahoc County operates from the same frequency and tone as the county’s remote repeater on Big Moose Mountain.

“This is a public safety issue and it’s something we really need to correct,” Roberts told Piscataquis County commissioners this week. He said it was so bad in recent days that a deputy who was patrolling the Milo road was unable to talk using radio to the dispatch center in Dover-Foxcroft.

Roberts said he had been in contact with the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, the Federal Communications Commission and Sagadahoc County officials in an effort to rectify the problem.

“We’re aware of the situation,” Brodie Hinckley, Sagadahoc County’s communications director, said Thursday. His county is working to resolve the problem, he said.

Hinckley said Sagadahoc County recently changed over its emergency radios and pagers to a narrow-band frequency in preparation for the FCC’s required 2013 changeover. State studies were done before the conversion, so no problems were anticipated, he said. But the changeover is what created the problems in Piscataquis County, he said.

To fix the situation, Hinckley said his county plans to add a few numbers onto its frequency, but that will mean every radio and pager in Sagadahoc County will have to be reprogrammed at that county’s cost. It will be done, he said, but it will take some time.

If the problem isn’t corrected in a timely fashion, the commissioners authorized Roberts to use $8,300 from the county’s contingency account to reprogram the communications system to narrow band earlier.

Roberts believes atmospheric conditions contributed to the problems, which have intensified within the past few weeks. When those conditions are just right, the county’s solar-powered repeater, which has a wind generator backup system, picks up the mobile radio traffic from Sagadahoc County deputies. That traffic depletes the solar batteries, causing the repeater to shut down, he said.

When radio communication problems occurred between Greenville and the sheriff’s department last winter, Greenville Town Manager John Simko and Greenville police Chief Jeff Pomerleau snowshoed up the backside of Big Moose Mountain to the repeater. There they cleared snow from the rotor of the wind generator. The wind generator, which was installed two years ago, improved the battery coverage until the problem with Sagadahoc surfaced, Roberts said.

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