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Township steps up communication with 800MHz

September 15, 2010 - Groveland Twp.- Communications for area firefighters will be much improved thanks to a new radio system that came online last week.

The 800MHz radio system, a combination of traditional two-way radio technology and computer-controlled transmitters, was introduced by Township Fire Chief Steve McGee during the township meeting on Monday night.

. The system's main advantage is that radio transmitters can be shared among various departments countywide, with the aid of computer programming. Virtual radio groups or "talk groups" are created in software to enable private departmental conversations. This gives the new system the appearance of having many "frequencies," when in fact everyone is sharing only a few.

"Prior to the 800MHz system we used VHS—basically one channel," said McGee. "Now each department can be part of the talk groups which helps coordinate the event or they can communicate with other agencies."

McGee said that each radio cost about $3,500 and 41 are needed for the township. The system is funded by a nationwide 9 -1-1 surcharge created in 1998. The total estimated cost for Oakland County to convert to the system is about $45 million.

McGee estimates the township radio conversion is about $300,000 and required about eight hours of training per firefighter.

In addition, the board approved $3,000 for microphones and cords for the radios, which McGee said were necessary due to the weight and size of the units.

Bill Nelson, Troy fire chief and co-chair of the county radio oversight committee, said the 800 MHz radios are the next generation and were prompted, in part, by disasters.

"The logistics in coordinating the 800MHz system is staggering. We started in 2008 the system now includes 910 square mile in the county with 37 towers and currently includes 40 fire departments, 40 law enforcement agencies, hospitals and the sheriff department," he said. "About 5,500 radios in all. When we started every police and fire station had their own towers and radios—a variety of systems."

"We had our own disasters right here in Michigan that have required better communications, including the Ford Wixom shooting, the Hechtman Federation Apartments in West Bloomfield and even last summer when a tanker containing 13,000 gallons of fuel traveling north on I-75 under the Nine Mile overpass exploded," he continued. "For that matter, the deaths of police and firefighters on Sept. 11 were due in part to the inoperabilities of the communications."

"Firefighters and police can now communicate with the 800MHz radion system—that would have made a significant difference during a massive disaster."

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