FCC Provides Guidance on Proper Use of Interoperability, Mutual-Aid Channels
Thursday, February 22, 2018 | Comments

The FCC provided guidance on proper use of the FCC-designated interoperability and mutual aid channels. A letter to Wynn Brannin, statewide emergency coordinator and statewide interoperability coordinator (SWIC) in New Mexico, confirmed that the interoperability and mutual-aid channels are primarily for interoperable emergency communications between different public-safety licensees.

The letter, in response to a letter from Brannin to the FCC a year ago seeking guidance, said day-to-day communications are permitted only on a secondary basis on the VHF and UHF interoperability channels and are prohibited on the 800 MHz interoperability channels.

In Brannin’s letter, he said a licensee in his region is using an interoperability channel as the primary repeater output for its EMS and said such operations make the interoperability channels “unusable for interoperability purposes during emergency and disaster situations” within a large geographic area of his region.

The FCC’s rules state that noninteroperability communications on interoperability channels in the VHF and UHF bands are secondary. Specifically, Section 90.20(d)(80) states that after Dec. 7, 2000, the interoperability channels in the VHF and UHF bands are primarily for public-safety interoperability only communications. Section 90.20(d)(80) also states that after Jan. 1, 2015, all noninteroperability communications on the VHF and UHF interoperability channels will be secondary to co-channel interoperability operations.

Communications authorized on a secondary basis are, by definition, not to cause interference to communications authorized on a primary basis. Thus, any internal day-to-day communication on the VHF and UHF interoperability channels that prevents these channels from being used for their intended purpose — interoperability communications — would exceed the secondary status designation of such communications and be a violation of FCC rules, the letter said.

When it designated mutual-aid channels in the 800 MHz band, the commission said that these channels are reserved “for the express purpose of intercommunication in non-routine, critical situations” and are intended to “provide public-safety agencies with the means to coordinate their responses more effectively.” The FCC emphasized that these channels “are not intended for routine, administrative, intra-agency communications but are to be reserved for coordination of multiple public-safety entities.”

Brannin also asked about allowed power and antenna height limits for licensees authorized to operate on interoperability frequencies. The power and antenna height limits for all licensees operating in the VHF and UHF bands are listed in Section 90.205 of FCC rules, and the power and antenna height limits for licensees operating in the 800 MHz band are listed in Section 90.635 of the FCC’s rules.

Base stations and control stations must be licensed individually if they operate on the interoperability or mutual-aid channels, but any public-safety-eligible entity holding a Part 90 license can operate mobile and portable units on the interoperability and mutual-aid channels without needing a separate authorization.

The letter, from Michael J. Wilhelm, chief of Policy and Licensing Division of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said if licensees believe another licensee is violating commission rules, they should report it to the Enforcement Bureau at 888-225-5322. In the event of a rule violation, the commission may impose restrictions on a licensee’s use of a channel.

The letter said to contact the Operations and Emergency Management (OEM) Division at 202- 418-1122 or FCCOPS@fcc.gov, a 24/7 operations center, if interference from a secondary station is causing an immediate life safety issue.

The full letter is here.

Separately, the FCC sent a letter to the Franklin Square & Munson Fire District in New York, noting the district is using frequency 453.4625 MHz on authorization WPKX623 for internal, routine, day-to-day operations. The license was issued in October 2000 and since then, the FCC imposed new limitations on 453.4625 MHz. Specifically, after Dec. 7, 2000, this frequency is available primarily for public-safety interoperability only communications.

Stations licensed prior to Dec. 7, 2000, could continue to use the frequency on a co-primary basis until Jan. 1, 2005. After Jan. 1, 2005, all operations became secondary to co-channel interoperability communications. Analog FM emission must be used exclusively for operation on the VHF and UHF interoperability channels.

“Therefore, since frequency 453.4625 MHz is secondary to co-channel interoperability communications, Franklin Square and Munson Fire District must discontinue operation on this frequency if the channel is needed for interoperability,” the FCC’s letter said. “We recognize that such discontinuation may hinder day-to-day operations on this channel to such an extent that Franklin Square and Munson Fire District may need to consider moving to another channel.”

The Franklin Square letter is here.

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