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Medford tower: an investment in community safety

The Capital Hill Radio Tower project has been the subject of controversy because of land-use issues. There should be no controversy about the community and public safety's need for a radio communication system that is reliable, efficient, covers the service area, is cost-effective and allows for future growth.

In the early 1980s, the city's radio transmissions occurred from City Hall. As the city grew, some of the farthest points from City Hall could not exchange radio transmissions because of distance and elevation differences between City Hall and the first responder in the field.

A radio-coverage study was completed and Capital Hill was selected in 1989 as the primary radio transmission site for the city, which resulted in a 30-foot transmission pole being installed.

The city continued to grow. First responders found that radio signals were not penetrating into buildings of dense construction such as the mall and schools. In 1993, the city upgraded its Capital Hill transmission site by replacing the pole with a 60 foot guyed tower that supported a receiving antenna and transmitting antennas.

Tower location decisions are based on the following:

  • Height — The height of the tower should be above most natural obstructions such as hills. The FCC regulates radio transmission power. The higher the elevation, the lower the power used for transmission. Roxy Ann is much higher, but the FCC will only allow transmissions at 25 watts. The FCC allows 100 watts to be used to transmit from Capital Hill, which allows the radio signal to penetrate most buildings in Medford.
  • Location — A central location is best to provide optimum/equitable signal strength throughout the coverage area. Medford police and fire departments operate on what is called a "Very High Frequency." VHF signal strength is measured in decibels. The farther the receiver distance is from the transmitter, the more significant reduction of signal level occurs. For example, if one increased the distance from two miles to four miles this would result in a 75 percent loss of signal strength. A tower on Roxy Ann transmitting at 25 watts is not centrally located and (because of distance and signal strength) cannot penetrate dense buildings.
  • Costs — The Capital Hill location is publicly owned land. The city, through the Medford Water Commission, can control who has access to this site and is not required to purchase the land used for the tower. This site provides security without additional costs.
  • Investment — The selected site should be a long-term investment that can meet the future growth needs of the city.

Everyone remembers the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. Interoperable and unreliable communication weaknesses contributed to loss of life. The city realized the importance of public safety communications and began building a reliable communication system that would meet today's and future needs.

In 2003, the city hired two qualified radio technicians to help build an affordable yet optimum communication system. Computer modeling studies confirmed Capital Hill as the optimum radio transmission site for Medford. The current radio communication system was developed and built around Capital Hill.

This system has been in development since 2003. The last phase of the current communications plan is to upgrade the Capital Hill site with a tower that is 100 feet higher than Capital Hill. The new tower will:

  • Enhance the radio coverage area by further reducing shadow effects caused by hills in the coverage area.
  • Improve transmission clarity by increased separation between the transmitting and receiving antennas.
  • Add microwave dishes to build a redundant system to connect dispatch with Capital Hill, City Hall and Roxy Ann should the fiber connection to Capital Hill be severed, which has happened before.

In 2010, Medford police and firefighters responded to more than 45,000 emergency calls for service. Officers responded to 16,000 reported serious crimes and took close to 8,000 people into custody. Drug offenses were up 36 percent and weapon offenses were up 28 percent.

Dangerous situations have become daily common occurrences with no advance warning, and the radio is the lifeline. The radio is a primary tool used to respond to emergencies, fight crime, save lives, deliver services and keep our first responders and the community safe. More than 4 million radio transmissions occur yearly between the users of this system. This system will benefit more than the 80,000 people that live in our coverage area. To date the tower upgrade is being built within budget at $253,000. The service and lifesaving benefits it provides ... priceless.

Randy Schoen is Medford's chief of police.