The FCC is making it mandatory that applicants for and licensees of privately operated mobile radio systems – both voice and data – switch to narrow bandwidths of 12.5 kHz or less.
This affects the local sheriff’s department, police department and fire departments around the county.
The changes coming were not a secret and most have been planning for the change for years.
“We started a plan for this four years ago,” said Lanny Holland, Beeville firefighter and president of the Bee County Fire Protection Agency.
Within Bee County, multiple small volunteer fire departments, such as Pawnee, Pettus, Tuleta, Blanconia and others, needed their equipment updated to meet the FCC standards.
The Bee County Fire Protection Agency, made up of members of all the volunteer fire departments in the county, work collaboratively to secure grants from Homeland Security.
“We secured grants of $249,000 for fire departments throughout the county,” Holland said.
The money was split among the different departments depending on their needs in terms of equipment.
The grants did pay for a lot of the equipment needed; however, it did not pay for all of it.
Each department itself was also responsible for coming up with a portion of the funds needed for the equipment, about 10 cents on the dollar, according to Holland.
In the case of the Beeville Fire Department, it had to come up with $6,000 which was much more feasible than coming up with the approximately $60,000 that was actually needed for equipment.
Holland explained that the reason behind the new FCC mandate is that there are now too many users on the broadband system and it can causes interference with agencies from different areas on similar frequencies.
Holland can attest to this.
“On certain days we would get skip communications from places such as Bastrop and Louisiana,” he said.
The narrow banding will allow for more concise frequencies.
It will also allow everyone to get on interoperable frequencies established by the state, so when multiple departments are responding to one fire or emergency situation, they can all switch to the same frequency and hear each other.
Holland said when they responded to the fire at the lake on Christmas Day, all departments were able to switch to Fire 1, a state frequency, and hear one another.
The Bee County Sheriff’s Department is also already upgraded.
Lt. Ronnie Jones said the sheriff’s department changed over to the new system two weeks ago but was prepared much sooner.
Neighboring county departments have also already made the change.
Both Goliad and Refugio counties have switched to digital, while Live Oak and McMullen counties have just switched to narrow bandwidth.
Each department within each county was responsible for getting its own equipment, but in most cases departments did so with the help of a grant.
Duane DuBose, chief of police for Kenedy and assistant emergency management coordinator for Karnes County, said that county is also prepared.
They too applied for grants and received some money needed to make the necessary updates.
“We put the money into major stuff... repeater towers and infrastructure at the sheriff’s office,” he said. “Those were some of the most expensive pieces.”
Additionally 21 radios, 21 mobile units and 21 handhelds were needed. Grant money was able to buy seven units of each but the departments had to some up with the remaining money needed.
While it has been difficult and expensive in some cases, everyone seems to be ready for the Jan. 1 deadline.