Amateur Radio

HAM operators in Lapeer County work closely with the Lapeer County Emergency Management Department and each have a small office allocated to them in the basement of the 9-1-1 Center. No 9-1-1 funds have ever been used to support the HAM radio operator’s purchase of equipment. All the equipment they have has been purchased on their own or have received grant funds through the Emergency Management Department. Emergency Management is a separate department within the county.

Both the HAM operator’s and Emergency Management also work closely with with the 9-1-1 Center in disaster exercises. They train along side the public safety responders and provide a very limited scope of radio support as well. Because their numbers are so few, it is not possible for them to take on and operate the volume of calls and radio traffic for over 1,000 users of the trunked, commercial grade radio system that the County uses. They are great compliment to the system and can provide quality assistance in specialized situations.

For instance, most if not all, HAM operator’s are trained severe weather spotters and provide the National Weather Service in Pontiac with important and timely reports of the most severe weather that passes through the county. This information is then disseminated to the public safety responders where appropriate.

From Doug Donner (KC8ZCF), a member of the W8LAP HAM group in Lapeer County.

First, it must be noted that comparing the LC Amateur radio repeater system to the 911 system is probably like comparing a Piper Cub to a 747.  They both work, but are designed for entirely different missions.

  • While the W8LAP repeater only cost a “few thousand dollars”, it is made up of used police radios that were modified for use as a repeater.  New, purpose designed repeaters start at around $3000 to $5000, then there’s the support equipment required.  A complete system might run $12-$15K  for the repeater, towers, antenna, etc (just a guess on my part)
  • W8ALP operates on only (2) frequencies, an input and an output frequency.  More than (2) stations using the repeater at the same time have to share. (could you imagine 911 Dispatch, an EMS unit, and a LEIN check talking at the same time????)
  • Across the county coverage?  A handheld radio @ 5 watts in Almont can’t talk to someone over the repeater.  Imlay city can be spotty at best.  It requires a mobile rig @ 50 watts to make the trip.  This could be partially because of the tower location and ground elevation.
  • Prior to the addition of another repeater in North Branch, communications with the North end of the county was very poor.  The Lapeer Ham club did not set-up this system.  It was set-up by a group of hams from NB and is basically on loan to the club.
  • E911 probably gets more use in a few hours that the W8LAP does in a year.  Ham repeaters are typically not rated for that much transmitting.
  • The W8LAP repeater system can’t do the following:
    • Pinpoint the location of a 911 hang-up call
    • Transmit data to/ from vehicles in the field by way of MDT.  Note, Ham radio CAN do this, but can’t talk at the same time on the same frequency.  Therefore, data transmission needs a different frequency and additional equipment.
    • Give directions, cross streets, etc to users in the field
  • LCARA doesn’t have 50 members and hasn’t in quite a few years…..