DELAWARE--New Radio Problems Found, Lawmakers Extending Investigation : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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New radio problems are found

Lawmakers extending investigation

By STEVEN CHURCH Staff reporter 03/16/2000

Lawmakers investigating problems with Delaware's emergency radio system extended their probe of the $51 million network Wednesday, citing new troubles raised during what had been planned as their last meeting.

After hearing complaints about coverage problems in Hartly, north Claymont and Rehoboth Beach, members of the state's 800 Megahertz Committee voted to put off issuing a final report.

Hartly, Claymont and Rehoboth were three of the five areas that officials with Gov. Tom Carper's administration said last year had been fixed.

"I am nowhere near ready to act on a final report," said Rep. Biff Lee, R-Laurel. "I'm not satisfied."

After a decade of work, the digital system went on line statewide in 1998 and immediately drew complaints from firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians.

State lawmakers began investigating the problems after a series of News Journal articles documented the five areas where the computerized radios often went dead. The system was designed to allow firefighters and police officers to talk to one another from any outdoor area in Delaware. But when the system was brought online, users discovered the radios often went dead in large, thick-walled buildings and in the five outdoor areas.

Carper has proposed spending $5 million to improve the system so emergency workers can communicate from large buildings. A consultant reported earlier this month that the radios failed a signal-reception test in 45 percent of 228 thick-walled buildings.

Secretary of Public Safety Brian Bushweller downplayed the new reports of radio trouble on Wednesday, saying they were all minor points that show the system still needs tweaking but not major repairs.

"I'm not sure we will ever resolve all of the tweaking problems," said Bushweller, tapped by Carper to oversee repairs to the system.

Bushweller in November announced that system builder Motorola Inc. had fixed all five areas where the radios would go dead. Motorola agreed last year to repair all of the dead zones at no cost to the state.

The only area that still has that problem, Bushweller told committee members, is north Claymont. The other areas included Rehoboth, Hartly, Brandywine Hundred and Newark-Hockessin.

In north Claymont, a bidirectional amplifier stopped working Tuesday, one day after radio tests showed the dead zone had not been eliminated, Bushweller said. The amplifier had been installed to provide radio coverage in the area.

A new amplifier will be put up by noon today, and that should eliminate the problem, Bushweller said.

Harry Warner, past president of the Delaware Volunteer Fireman's Association, said he was skeptical the new equipment would solve all problems. He said there were problems in north Claymont even before the amplifier stopped working.

"We still feel there are areas that have not been totally addressed," Warner said, speaking on behalf of firefighters in Brandywine and Claymont.

A few square miles from Naamans Road to the Pennsylvania border still have radio problems, said Dave Roberts, who runs New Castle County' s 911 system.

State Rep. Charles W. Welch, R-Hunters Pointe, said a fire chief in Hartly complained to him about getting busy signals on the radios during heavy snowstorms earlier this year when the emergency network was experiencing heavy use. The radios didn't work properly around Hartly until Motorola installed equipment that improved the signal, but limited the number of channels users had access to.

In Rehoboth, police officers complained that they needed more training with the complicated radios, said Rep. Nancy Wagner, R-Dover.

Committee members planned to issue their final report recommending that a permanent oversight group be founded and that any future technology projects be overseen by an outside consultant.

Reach Steven Church at 324-2786 or

-- (, March 16, 2000

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