Monroe, Michigan County's 800 MHz System—Single Sourcing Without Consulting Engineering Advice Might Backfire

See Also

Questions on Deployment and Maintainability of the Monroe County 800 MHz Motorola Radio System

Defective Radio System Implicated when Fire burns home in Petersburg Michigan

Note:  I wish to thank County Administrator/Chief Financial Officer Charles A. Londo and his Administrative Assistant/Deputy Clerk Vickie Koczman for promptly honoring my freedom of information request and the honesty, openness, and helpfulness in accessing the documents requested. by the writer.

When Comissioner Dale Zorn questioned the procedure being followed by his fellow commissioners, the writer, who, like Dale, has a background in radio engineering  considered his concerns valid and  the single sourcing of so large an amount off money without competitive bidding and a good consultants oversight as unwise.

Note: Articles unless stated otherwise are extracted  from the Monroe Evening News and used by permission.  No claim is made that by The News or the Web Keeper Motorola equipment is poorly manufactured or that Motorola engineers are not well qualified to design good communications systems. However, there is a thread throughout this ongoing account of our County Commissioners in action spending taxpayer's money without needed engineering oversight.  The Web Keeper agrees with our High Sheriff, Tilman Crutchfield that good communications systems are essential to efficient delivery of public safety services.  However, a majority of our County Commissioners voted to single source an eight million dollor system to Motorola without bidding and without an impartial consulting engineer's oversight —a very unwise move.

County may seek homeland security dollars - May 19, 2003

The federal government has millions of dollars to give out in grants and Monroe County is hoping to capture some of that money.

By JOSHUA KENNEDY Monroe Evening News staff writer © 2003

Monroe County officials are ready to work this summer to net what they hope is a share of some $42 million in federal homeland security grants. One reason the county is going after the money is because it may be possible to use it to help pay for the county's venture to join the state's 800 MHz radio system, which is expected to cost at least $8 million. Monroe County 911 Assistant Director Phil Chrzan will make a presentation to the county board's physical resources committee Tuesday to discuss a plan of action....

Click on any image for larger view

The above drawing is the web keeper's artist depiction of the Motorola designed system.  Each red X indicates a point where the writer considers a single failure of fiber optic cable or a microwave link would render all or a part of the system in operational.  This is unacceptable in the writer's opinion in good robust public safety network design.  It is uncertain if the fiber link will go through the telephone central office or directly to the main site off Dunbar Road.  The writers concern is equipment failure and not robustness concerning sabotage.

A consulting radio engineer who is an expert at system designs of this type worked with the web keeper to check each path for obstructions using USGS mapping information.  This design can lose any one microwave link and any tower except that proposed to be placed atop the Jail and dispatch center and still function providing county wide coverage.

The above drawing is an artists depiction by the web keeper of a robust public safety network. the writer's opinion, a robust system has redundant microwave links and never depends on wire or fiber optic lines on public rights of way for system operation. Without a consulting engineer designing a robust system, and following the competitive bidding process, Motorola could put untold amounts of excess costs in their coffers by overpricing a non robust system.  


There as absolutely nothing illegal concerning this procedure.  One of the writers favorite sayings is "In confusion there is profit."  Maximum confusion is created whenever State and Federal politicians throw money around foolishly in the name of "homeland security".  

In the rush to firm up an agreement to assure the federal grant, a contract written by Motorola that is full of loopholes and obsolete specifications where standard industry specifications exist was adopted.  The only Commissioner who was knowledgeable of radio systems, Dale Zorn of Ida opposed entering into this sweetheart contract.  

Fire chiefs now happy with VHF plans - May 26, 2004

The new system would increase the emergency alert coverage area in the county from 42 percent to 95 percent.

By JOSHUA KENNEDY Monroe Evening News staff writer

Sometimes hearing it from the proverbial horse's mouth is all it takes.

It was only weeks ago that members of the Monroe County Fire Chief's Association stood before the Monroe County Board of Commissioners and said they didn't trust county officials or their promises that the VHF paging system was being fixed. The system is used to alert emergency workers across the county.

Tuesday, Luna Pier Mayor and fire Chief Jerry Welton, the group's unofficial spokesman, took it all back and verbally approved plans presented by Motorola to fix the aging alert system.

"This should meet our needs," he said after a 30-minute presentation on the planned fix during the board's physical resources committee meeting. "The coverage will definitely be better for the outlying areas of the county. We are pleased with it. It should work out better for the whole county."

The $209,000 plan - which will be wrapped into the overall $9 million project to join the state-owned digital 800 MHz radio system - will piggyback off equipment being installed around the county.

Displaying maps of concentric circles in green and white, Motorola engineer Michael Bebe explained how a simulcast paging system would be built using space on 800 MHz towers being built in Berlin, Monroe and White townships, and on an additional site in Dundee.

Mr. Bebe said that the county was using a paging system with only about 42 percent coverage - if central dispatch personnel utilized both of two towers in the county. But that system was problematic, he said, because it required dispatchers to remember which departments had been paged at what time and for what incident.

Creating a simulcast system, Mr. Bebe said, would allow one page that would be heard in about 95 percent of the county. The proposal also eliminates MRTIs, dubbed Martys, that allow dispatchers to relay pages through telephone routing gear in remote areas of the county.

That gear, Mr. Bebe said, is aged and will soon be obsolete.

Erie Township Chief Mike Demski agreed that the VHF system as proposed is a step in the right direction.

"Now, with 95 percent all the way to the county line, you have to think overall it's going to work better," he said.

The chiefs were an integral part of the county's ability to nab a $6 million federal grant to help pay for joining the 800 MHz system. That grant to create a radio system linking fire, police and many other agencies on one communication system, was contingent on those agencies agreeing that was the way to go.

The chiefs made their support in writing contingent on the county fixing an existing VHF paging system used to alert the area's volunteer emergency forces and the county board agreed to the terms at its May 27, 2003, meeting when it commissioned staff to find someone to fix that antiquated system.

In March, county officials told the physical resources committee that the VHF system wasn't part of the federal grant. Later, at a fire chiefs meeting in April, in front of more than 30 firefighters, those statements were retracted.

County Administrator Charles Londo said the VHF fix costs would fit within the total $9.3 million - the $6 million federal grant and up to $3.3 million in county matching funds - approved for the overall radio project.

Web Keeper's Opinion.  The simulcast system is technically feasible provided: All transmitters operate within 50 HZ of each other which will require phase locking the frequency control to a highly accurate source such as GPS frequency transfer.  The audio path lengtths to each transmitter are adjusted with digital delay lines to equal lengths to wuthin a quarter cycle at the highest frequency of interest, usually 3,000 Hz.  The statement of coverage percentage is based on probability meaning that 95% coverage can be achieved a stated percentage of the time.  Without stating the percentage of  time that 95 percent coverasge is attanable based on  propigation studies, the actual coverage is problematic.

The Web Keeper notes that the many issues of  an 800 MHz trucking system using only three new towers and a inherently fragile linking system have not been resolved.  Likewise, the present systems should be maintained in order to insure public safety, especially for the City of Monroe police UHF system, Public service VHF system  and the firefighters tried and true tactical VHF system.

Radio tower might be needed - 06/15/2005 © Monroe Evening News

County officials are noticing emergency signal problems along Lewis Ave. and the state line in the southern part of the county.


A coverage problem in southern Monroe County is forcing officials to consider adding a new radio tower to the county's new 800 MHz emergency radio system.

The system is performing at an acceptable level, but signal problems in a concentrated area along Lewis Ave. and the state line may need to be corrected with more infrastructure, Monroe County Sheriff's Office Lt. David Thompson told the Monroe County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

Other alternatives are being considered, according to Lt. Thompson, including the possibility of partnering with Lucas County on an Ohio-based tower that might solve the Monroe County coverage issue.

Lucas County is considering building an 800 MHz system that would include a number of new radio towers. One of those towers could be fitted with Monroe County equipment to help fill the south county coverage gaps.

"We would like to be included in their design for that part of Lucas County and take a look at if we can include a transmitter on one of the towers that they are going to build … and point it back toward Michigan," Lt. Thompson said. "We need to see if in fact that will solve some of our issues with coverage along the state line."

Negotiating such an agreement could take "some time," Lt. Thompson said.

Adding a new tower, however, would cost more than $1 million, while adding Monroe County equipment to a Lucas County tower probably would cost between $500,000 and $750,000, he said. Both options are being explored.

Coverage problems have been reported at 39 different locations across the county. In addition to problems near the state line, poor coverage was reported at the Monroe County jail and Monroe County Courthouse. The problem at the jail was corrected at a cost of $19,000 and a similar fix is being considered for the courthouse, according to Lt. Thompson.

Despite the problems, the radio system is performing above acceptable levels, county officials say. The county's contract with communications company Motorola - the firm that designed and built the 800 MHz system - required 95-percent county coverage. The radio system is actually achieving 97-percent coverage.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the grids that failed are along the state line," Lt. Thompson told the board. "We don't have this problem in the other parts of the county."

There also have been weak signals in northern parts of the county, including Milan. The county handed out dozens of portable radios capable of producing a stronger signal to emergency agencies there. The radios cost $150 more than standard issue, but have solved some of the more moderate coverage issues.

Project leaders also are struggling to find a radio frequency to strengthen fire department pages. All four of the county's 800 MHz towers can be made to send a single page signal over a standard VHF frequency when paging a fire department, but counties, townships and cities outside the county have objected to each of the frequencies Monroe County has attempted to use, saying the pages interfere with their VHF radio communications. In order to obtain a license for a new frequency, the county has to get clearance from all nearby municipalities, Lt. Thompson said.

Until a new frequency is agreed on, fire department pages are being sent from only two towers - a much weaker signal, Lt. Thompson said.   © Monroe Evening News


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