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NPSTC Radio PCR Group Announces Interoperability Programming Tool

Date: 2014-04-11
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The NPSTC Radio PCR Working Group recently created a radio programming and management tool called PAM.  The tool was created in order to mitigate a problem that was discovered during the search for the suspect in the shooting of a Florida police officer in 2011, in which programming failed to connect radios designated for interoperability.

Radio programming is very complex with many data fields that assign frequencies, ID’s, features and options. A slight error during the programming process will prohibit the radio from accessing a trunking system or conventional channel when the radio is used. This issue impacts public safety agencies using radio equipment from multiple vendors. It also creates a huge safety issue at the scene of a major incident when large quantities of radios need to be programmed for mutual aid use.

Right: Incident Dispatchers check out a
newly-programmed cache of radios during
a California wildland fire exercise in 2006.
Photo: R D Larson 

On Monday, February 21, 2011, Officer David Crawford with the St. Petersburg, FL Police Department was shot and killed while investigating a report of a suspicious person. Law enforcement agencies from throughout the Tampa Bay region responded to assist in the search for the suspect. Many of the first responder’s radios had recently been programmed with additional talkgroups to allow them to communicate on the countywide P25 network for interoperability.

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When the mutual aid law enforcement units tried to communicate on the P25 talkgroups their radios did not work. A less desirable (and less reliable) console patch had to be created to allow the officers to coordinate their search. It was later determined that a programming error allowed the radio to be fully operable on most frequencies but unable to communicate during a critical interoperability response.

In 2011, there were more than eight vendors manufacturing P25 equipment. Each of them had their own proprietary programming software and none of the software packages were compatible. The technician would have to know the specifics of each software system and understand that the same data element (i.e., frequency) might have a different label in each vendor’s program. The complexity in navigating pages of software programming could easily cause the introduction of errors and incorrect settings.

Process and Progress
In May of 2011, this issue was brought before the NPSTC Governing Board during a meeting in Washington, D.C. NPSTC immediately embraced this issue and authorized the formation of a special Working Group.  By September of that same year, the Radio PCR Working Group was fully organized and began holding monthly conference calls with public safety practitioners and manufacturers.

The PAM solution
This tool uses an Excel spreadsheet to capture specific P25 radio programming data fields.  The spreadsheet allows a technician to manually enter specific programming information into the spreadsheet. When the data has been entered for a participating vendor, the spreadsheet will then display the required information in the proper format for the other P25 participating vendors. So, if information is entered about a radio from Vendor A, the technician will instantly see the necessary information to program a radio from Vendor B. This includes the correct data field names and notations where some data elements are not an exact match.

The Big Picture
NPSTC is currently working on a related project to develop best practices for radio programming and utilization of communications assets at the scene of a large incident. Many after action reports cite problems with the programming, assignment, and use of radio equipment at major events. The Radio PCR spreadsheet represents a significant advancement with one of these issues.

The spreadsheet and full Radio PCR Working Group’s Report are available here for download:

For addiitonal information, see:

- People, Places & Things/ (via NPSTC, 8/10/14)





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