Necessity inspires improved equipment
Colorado Maintenance crews often work in remote areas where communication coverage is poor. In the mountainous terrain where mobile radios sometimes cannot reach someone even a half mile away, communication becomes difficult or nonexistent. Over the summer, while upgrading capacity on the Curecanti-to-Lost Canyon transmission line near Gunnison, Colorado, Rocky Mountain crews could not use the fixed-radio communication system in their vehicles in the valley or mobile-to-mobile communication because there was no reception. The team decided it was time to improve radio coverage, and the very-high-frequency, or VHF, mobile repeater became a reality.
Good radio communication between crew members is critical in ensuring coordination, safety and a job well done. “The folks in the Western Colorado Maintenance Division built a mobile VHF repeater that can be moved as needed to enhance the radio coverage at the job site. It will also be useful when our crews work storm jobs outside Western—like Hurricane Sandy or the [Southwestern Power Administration] ice storm—allowing them to set it up at the job site and extend radio coverage in the area. This is a classic example of employees improving processes and equipment,” explained Senior VP and Rocky Mountain Regional Manager Brad Warren.
Essentially, a VHF repeater is a powerful antenna and radio combination with strong receiving and transmitting capabilities. When placed in strategic locations, VHF repeaters greatly extend the communication range of mobile radio devices. “We already had the VHF radio and antenna; the only additional equipment needed was a portable generator (48 volts of direct current) and cables. The antenna can be strapped to the top of a vehicle transporting the trailer holding the prototype repeater. Our communication techs built the prototype over a couple days and had a few additional enhancements completed,” said Western Colorado Maintenance Manager Robert Reynolds.
Communication enhancements Westernwide
Many locations throughout Western could benefit from a portable VHF repeater system. Western’s current VHF radio coverage is set up to cover transmission line sections, substations and communication sites. However, there are times, because of the terrain, the vehicle’s radio signal cannot reach the repeater unless crews drive to higher ground. “I’m working with Engineering to have a fixed-repeater frequency assigned for use throughout the United States, if possible, or at least within Western’s operational territories,” explained Reynolds.
The prototype is working well and will be used in other locations throughout RM where radio coverage is sketchy. Reynolds said, “As it is being used, the system uses a fixed radio not meant to be mounted in a moving vehicle. The electronic equipment craftsmen will work on modifying how some of the equipment is transported. In the future, the equipment may be set up to slide into the back of a truck, eliminating the need of a trailer. We are also looking at VHF radios that are made for portable applications.”
Foreman II EEC Ryan Shaw and EEC Jeff Buchanan from the Montrose office were the key players in procuring and setting up the VHF repeater trailer. We have some great EECs out there, doing great work, and when given a task, they get things done,” said Reynolds.