DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Most Maine communities and their public safety departments either have completed or are well on their way to complying with the federally required changeover from wide-band to narrow-band communications, which will provide more airspace for radio traffic.
The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that all emergency providers upgrade their equipment from wide band to narrow band by Jan. 1, 2013. The requirement also affects private contractors, businesses and schools that use two-way radios or pagers that are licensed for radio traffic.
“I feel that we’re in pretty good shape, we’re getting there,” Robert McAleer, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said Wednesday. “There are a lot of people that are working to get us to where we need to be.”
The state is moving ahead steadily to upgrade its equipment, according to McAleer. He said the state radio system is being rebuilt and a number of communications towers are going up to handle the changeover. The Maine State Communication Network Project, commonly called MSCommNet, is expected to cost $50 million.
Counties also are doing a good job and some are further ahead than others, according to McAleer.
Piscataquis County intends to make the changeover on April 1, 2012, which will provide county officials enough time to work out any problems, Tom Capraro, the county’s Emergency Management Agency deputy director, said recently.
Capraro and Tim Iverson Jr., the county’s EMA director, have been working aggressively with public safety organizations and communities in the county to update the radio equipment for the changeover, which one state official last year likened to adding a third lane to a two-way highway.
Over the months, an inventory of all the equipment used by Piscataquis County fire, police, and public works departments and town offices was conducted and the pair worked to help communities identify which equipment was and was not compliant. Radios and pagers manufactured after 1997 might already be narrow-bandable, according to Capraro. Also early in the process, the pair obtained what state and federal grants they could to help purchase new radios and pagers.
“The county is in very good shape,” Capraro said, adding that work now is under way to get the radios and pagers reprogrammed, which costs about $30 to $50 for each unit.
A survey done about a year ago roughly estimated the changeover cost for the 16 counties at $4.5 million, according to McAleer. Since that time, the state has sent a lot of money received from the federal government for radio communication upgrades to the counties to reduce the cost.
What troubles McAleer is that there are still some smaller communities which are not yet compliant with the National Incident Management System, or NIMS, which guides both governmental and nongovernmental organizations in the protection of the public and responses to incidents. The system involves the adoption of an emergency plan and training to carry it out, he said. Communities that have not embraced NIMS are ineligible for federal funds to help with the upgrade.
To make the changeover, emergency responders and the private sector must change their licenses with the FCC, and that could take as long as a year. McAleer said it takes less time to obtain the narrow-band frequency license than it does to increase the power of radios or an antenna.
“People keep asking, ‘Well, are they going to push the deadline back, that January 1, 2013, deadline?’ and we see absolutely no indication of that,” McAleer said.
For any group or town found in violation of the law, the FCC can issue a cease-and-desist order, which means the provider would not be allowed to operate on the frequency. Failure to comply with the order could result in fines of up to $10,000.