Burnside Tower Site Work

Work has begun at our new Burnside Township tower site. The Lapeer County Road Commissions has graciously cleared and leveled the area where the tower will be and Motorola/Pyramid Network Services have dug the foundations for the tower, shelter and anchor points. Concrete started flowing into them this morning. This tower will be 350 feet tall and carry digital 800MHz, VHF paging and microwave equipment for our new digital MPSCS radio system. Follow the link below for more pictures of the site work.

Click for more pictures.

Tower base which will be set in concrete to hold the tower up.

Project Update

Site acquisition is still ongoing in some areas and near completion in others. We hope to finish getting all the sites secured in the next few months.

We do have something that can actually been seen as work being done, physically speaking. The expansion of the radio equipment room in the basement of the dispatch center is just about complete. You can see photos of it here. All that is left to do is clean and seal the concrete floor and then new equipment can start coming in.

February Site Walks

This week the project managers from Lapeer County 9-1-1 and Motorola along with a team of Motorola, Pyramid Network Services LLC and Infinigy Engineering & Surveying engineers went to visit all the sites that have been previously chosen to bring needed coverage to the county. Also in attendance were technicians from the state MPSCS who will also work closely with the Motorola and county teams.

Detailed site drawings were ether taken or acquired from past surveys for all sites. Photographs were taken and discussions on equipment, placement, layout and construction also occurred. Plans are beginning to form on how everything will be put together and how the cutover from the old system to the new system will happen.

According to our plans we will have 9 VHF paging sites and 7 800MHz voice sites. The entire system will be simulcast and linked together via microwave.

  • Columbiaville water tank: VHF pagng with PTP microwave
  • A site in North Branch: VHF paging with PTP microwave
  • MPSCS site 3802: VHF paging and 800MHz voice with microwave
  • A site on Deanville Road east of Van Dyke (Lapeer County Road Commission property): VHF paging and 800MHz voice with microwave
  • Existing site at Lapeer County Central Dispatch (Prime Site): VHF paging and 800MHz voice with microwave
  • Existing site in the Imlay City industrial park: VHF paging and 800MHz voice with microwave
  • A site in Hadley Township on Fox Lake Road west of Hadley Road: VHF paging and 800MHz voice with microwave
  • Metamora Village water tank: VHF paging and 800MHz voice with microwave
  • Almont Village water tank: VHF paging and 800MHz voice with microwave
  • There will also be a microwave link to MPSCS 2102 in Addison Township, Oakland County to loop some of the other sites back around to the prime site. This was chosen because microwave path studies predicted some unacceptable path fading in some of the other path scenarios.

Some equipment and shelters will be either converted or moved from one location to another for reuse.

Full site drawings will be worked up following these site walks with equipment considerations included in them. They should be ready for review by the County and MPSCS by April. Speaking only preliminarily, we could begin to turn dirt by late spring to early summer.

Weekly meetings or teleconferences will begin next week between the County and Motorola to ensure the workflow moves along and to keep each other updated on progress and work out any issues that will arise.

Inside the prime site radio room.

Microwave and channel bank equipment at the prime site.
Columbiaville water tank

Lightning Strikes Lapeer 9-1-1 Tower

Yesterday afternoon a severe thunderstorm passed through Lapeer County and early on a bolt of lightning is believed to have struck the tower behind the 9-1-1 Center in Lapeer. A dispatcher witnessed an arch of electricity move from one of the stand-off antennas to a leg of the tower structure. The dispatcher also saw the tower glowing briefly. Subsequently, this lightning strike temporarily knocked out all communications in the center including sending the voice radio system into failsoft.

What is failsoft?

If the trunking system loses its control channel or has certain other failures, it is no longer able to operate in the trunking mode. So instead of going into a condition that stops all communication, the system enters Failsoft. In this state all transmitters (channels) turn on and operate in a ‘conventional’ repeater mode. The subscriber radios are able to recognize this state and switch to a predetermined frequency (one of the trunk system frequencies, but not the control channel frequency) depending on their selected talkgroup. In most systems several talkgroups will share a frequency. Some talkgroups may not be assigned a failsoft frequency and these talkgroups will cease to operate during the failsoft period. If a particular failsoft frequency has also failed, the talkgroups assigned to that frequency will also be off the air during failsoft.

 

The system quickly recovered and went back into normal operation. However, one system was unable to recover and that is the part of the paging system which dispatch’s EMS crews for Lapeer County EMS.

The old Zetron unit which runs the alpha-numeric pagers for Lapeer County EMS is no longer communicating with the paging servers. Several attempts to reset the unit and even change paging servers were unsuccessful. Another problem is that this unit has gone off of the Motorola maintenance contract several years ago. We do have replacement parts on hand for this unit, but working on it will cost the center time and labor. We will be contacting Zetron this morning to seek their assistance in diagnosing the problem and programming spare boards to be put into service.

As of yesterday, all bases of Lapeer County EMS (Imlay City, North Branch and two in Lapeer City) are operating on radio and telephone standby until further notice. It is not known when or even if this system can be repaired.

Fire department paging was unaffected and is in normal operation.

Additionally, the wireless communication link to Metamora Police which runs their AICS and Internet services went down during the lightning strike.

Further updates will be posted when information is available.

Thoughts on our communications system

Due to heightened sensitivity of the issues surrounding the paging system I am hearing reports of strange things occurring on folks pagers. Things such as one department being toned and a pager from another department opening up but not hearing any voice, pagers opening up when no one is being toned etc.. Many of these occurrences are not new and have been happening to some degree over the years and I would like to say a few things about that.

First, the Minitor V is a very sensitive device and has a history of opening up on “close” tones. Many of the departments in Lapeer County have tone sets that are very close to one another and on occasion will open up when it thinks it hears its own tone. A few years ago Motorola issued a software update to help control sensitivity of the device. If you think you have a pager that is still too sensitive you can bring it in and I can further adjust the sensitivity of it.

There is also the likelihood that there could be some other transmitting device in a frequency band near our assigned frequency that could be transmitting at high power and causing bleed over into our band and causing a pager to open up. As an example, I’ve had it happen before on my car stereo while listening to the radio that a person on CB with a linear amplifier (which is illegal to use) was pushing so much power on the citizens band that his transmission bled over the FM radio band and blasted me in my car right over the radio station.

Secondly, there are areas of the county that traditionally have poor coverage even though they are in relative close proximity of a tower. The likely cause for this is what is called “dead zones” in radio wave propagation combined with terrain features. This also accounts for why people will be well outside of the county and get a page and have it be crystal clear.

Thirdly, for some who keep their pager on an “open” status, on occasion you hear bursts of data. Those are a couple of different things. One kind is the alpha-numeric pages that Lapeer County EMS uses and formerly some MFR groups. Also the system itself sends out data bursts periodically to “poll” the sites. The system polls the sites to make sure they are either still online, offline or to find out if there is something going wrong that it needs to send out an alarm about.

Degraded Communications

 

There are just so many variables to look at in wireless communications from terrain features, vegetation, local weather conditions, space weather (i.e. solar flares, sun spots), buildings, orientation of the pager, where it is worn on the body, body type, direction the pager (or radio) is facing relative to the source signal, heavy machinery, high tension power lines, electronics and so on. All of these things and more play a role in how radio communications work, or don’t work for that matter. I think that many times, these weird things that happen are not always due to a problem with the system, but can be attributed to external factors interfering with our system.

Also important is the age of our system as we are all very aware of. Blumerich and I keep a very close eye on the system and we check it and test it weekly to make sure it is operating within specification. Even though when it is operating normally, there can still be issues with receiving pages that just cannot be explained other than looking at some of the other variables I mentioned already.

Regardless of all that, the looming age of the system is a big concern and every time we experience a problem with it, it further highlights the need to have it replaced with a new system and more towers installed to increase coverage in the deficient areas. Please continue to keep your ears tuned to any potential problems and let us know about them.

Paging System Update

This week Blumerich Communications (our radio shop) installed a power supply for what we call the “page bridge” which is the unit that failed in March that brought the entire system down. When that happened we installed the only spare power supply we had to bring the system back up and that left us without a spare backup.

Blumerich found another one on eBay and purchased it as is. They tested it and it seemed to work. Then they brought it out this week and installed it to make sure it worked on our system and it did. It ran a little hot (high voltage) but within specification. They took it back out and tuned it down and then put the original power supply back in.

So right now we have a spare power supply again for the page bridge. As we are well aware, it is a used part of equal age of the system and has no warranty. Therefore when and if it is needed, there is no guarantee that it will work for long. But at least we have a backup unit again.

Also we ordered two new power supplies from Motorola for the nucleolus that failed in Lapeer last weekend and we’ll have them in hand on Tuesday.

Paging System

On Saturday, June 19,  the paging system for fire departments and Lapeer County EMS partially went down in the area of the Lapeer tower. The Imlay City and North Branch tower areas were unaffected. It was a combination problem of a faulty power supply and a circuit board called a nucleolus, which is the “brain” of the paging system. Each site has its own nucleolus, which allows them to continue to operate though one site is down. Fortunately we had several spare power supplies and one spare nucleolus.

We felt due to the concentration of population surrounding the Lapeer tower as opposed to the North Branch tower that we were going to pull the nucleolus from North Branch and put it in service in Lapeer to get paging back online in the area. Blumerich Communications (our radio shop) went to North Branch and pulled the parts and brought them to Lapeer. The boards proved to be a bit different from each site and when inserted wouldn’t work right. By all indications, it was only the nucleolus that was bad as both power supplies were working and showing faults, and the two cards (the nucleolus and another card) were not coming up. Working with several cards and different technical methods took quite some time. We found that the  first spare power supply we pulled out of storage turned out to be a bad unit and didn’t work. We were able to insert the original nucleolus into the Lapeer site with a second spare power supply and that brought it back online.

During this time, it was discovered that the nucleolus from the North Branch site was going bad as it would only power up and then go into a reset loop. By this time it was 2am. Earlier in the evening dispatch made phone calls to all the departments advising them of the situation. Sunday morning we returned after getting some rest and took the spare nucleolus back to North Branch. The spare nucleolus needed programming for our system and Blumerich had copied the proper settings from the working board in Lapeer before going to North Branch. Once the spare was programmed and inserted into the system we did a test page with Burlington Fire and people in Tuscola County and Marlette as well as in Lapeer received the page. After the successful page with Burlington it was confirmed that all sites were back online. We directed an ‘all call’ page for the entire county around 1200 on Sunday to alert the fire service that the system was back online at 100% for all three sites.

Additionally, all the Lapeer County EMS bases were on radio standby initially and then only the North Branch EMS base was required to be on radio standby, once the problem was diagnosed. Now all the bases are back on routine paging for calls.

The nucleolus board is an obsolete part and went off the Motorola contract several years ago. Had we not had a spare on hand, it is unlikely that we would be able to get another one or get one repaired. We are going to try and find another one, as well as try and repair the bad one. The nucleolus is a critical part of the paging system.

Coincidentally, earlier in the day Saturday we had a high temperature alarm in the Imlay City tower site. The A/C had gone out and the threshold of heat inside the radio room was exceeded. We contacted the County Buildings and Grounds department and they went out and fixed the problem. Though it was a high temperature, the systems were unaffected. This problem was completely separate and unrelated to the paging problem.