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In my last post (part 3: Troubleshooting), I mentioned a the radio relay and Vehicle Repeater System (VRS). The former is a quick solution that requires personnel in dedicated positions; the latter requires a unit with VRS to arrive on-scene and activate the VRS. I will address both in this post, as they are the simplest options for fixing a tactical communications problem.

Tactical Communications Preplanning

Tactical Communications Preplanning (TCP) begins where you have difficulties with transmitting and receiving. These are most likely areas inside or under large buildings, but could also be in rural areas or in below grade transportation hubs like subway or train stations. I'm going to assume that you know these areas, as they're in your first due and you've likely been frustrated when you encounter them.

But, what about the communications problems you have yet to discover in your response area? These dead spots are waiting for you to show up and fail in communications. Adding a TCP to your traditional preplans, drills and site visits will identify these areas and help you develop a plan for effective communications.

For your TCP you'll need at least one company (3 or more members). Having a preplan or site map of the building or area your testing is optimal. If you don't have one, sketch one up. As you move through the location, note where your smart radio honks at you (no comms) or where your older style radios are squelchy or not picking up comms at all. At the end of your walk through, meet back at the main entrance and run through your troubleshooting plan (as discussed in the last blog post). If moving your radio or body doesn't clear up the problem, then you will need some outside help.

The easiest fix is a radio relay (see my last post). Because this is manpower intensive, it's also difficult to employ, especially in support of initial operations, where every member counts. Use this opportunity while conducting your TCP to conduct a radio relay drill. And keep it in your playbook; continue to drill on it. Attempting to set a relay up on the scene with untrained personnel is like herding cats. Like anything we do in the fire service, train on it and it will work for you when you need it.

If your department has vehicle mounted VRS, then ensure your chiefs or vehicle operators have them ON upon arrival (and make the announcement that they're on). If your department doesn't have them, ask if they're in the works, and if not, insist that they become a part of your tactical playbook.

In areas where you have new construction and/or good building codes, and your problem is in a structure (building, large parking garages and underground spaces), then equipment like a Bi-Directional Amplifier (BDA) might be required. Contact your fire code enforcement office and see if BDAs are in the code. If they are, have those folks perform a site visit and get the ball rolling.

Continue to keep communications in your daily lives, trainings, and make your portable radio your number 1 checkout item! 

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