Favorable reception to emergency radio upgrades

A photo of the emergency radio tower at Leviathan Fire Lookout in Alpine County. Federal Engineering photo

A photo of the emergency radio tower at Leviathan Fire Lookout in Alpine County. Federal Engineering photo

A $414,750 contract for engineering services to begin the first phase to upgrade Douglas County’s public safety radio system goes before Douglas County commissioners on Thursday.

The contract with Don Cushing Associates is the first step to upgrading the system.

Douglas County commissioners heard a report on the system in February 2022.

Costs for work on the system will cost $10 million or more depending on what options the county selects, as reported in The Record-Courier in February 2022.

Trisected by two mountain ranges, there are places in Douglas County where radio communications sometimes falter.

Short of putting a tower on every peak, the county will always have a few dead spots, but a study commissioned last year shows the way to improve coverage significantly, for a price.

Last week, county commissioners heard a report on a public radio study conducted by Federal Engineering.

“These land mobile radio systems are aging, and the users are experiencing issues with coverage, system reliability and technology obsolescence,” the study said. “Currently, leased copper lines as well as ultra high frequency links serve as backhaul connections to remote radio facilities.”

Three emergency agencies rely on the county’s radio system, including the Sheriff’s Office, East Fork Fire Protection District and Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District.

That’s in addition to Alpine County and the Washoe Tribe Police. All three systems operate in the very high frequency spectrum.

The Sheriff’s Office reported that radio issues have been ongoing over the last decade.

“There are issues down south where dispatchers can pick up communications from the field officer, but other field users cannot hear those same transmissions,” according to the study. “System performance differs on different days and depends on location of repeater.”

While both the fire districts want to stick with the current VHF systems, the sheriff’s office is exploring joining the state’s 800 MHz Nevada Shared Radio System used by the Nevada Highway Patrol. Just improving the VHF radio system would cost the county $10.03 million, while adding the 800 MHz system would run $12.9 million.

County Internet Technologies Manager Daniel Johnson said copper lines to some towers pose a vulnerability in the system when the Tamarack Fire burned through the South County. He said a microwave backhaul would have allowed the county to bring the system back online more quickly.

“It does improve the coverage dramatically for all three agencies,” Johnson said. “There will be some dead spots, but not as many.”

Commissioner Wes Rice, who worked for the Sheriff’s Office at Lake Tahoe for many years, said the improvements are needed.

“There’s nothing worse than calling for help and the dispatcher can’t hear you because you’re in a dead spot.”

Like any technology, the systems Douglas is using are at or near the end of their lifetime, with several with either no support or parts from the manufacturer.

One of the first expenses would be to improve the 16 current sites and perhaps add some others where feasible.

Vandalism and theft has affected some of the locations, including the theft of the grounding cable for the lower leg of the Leviathan site’s tower.

County commissioners voted to accept the study in February 2022.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment