Posts belonging to Category Keller Stuff

Doggone Bad Time In North Keller

When I read about this incident yesterday I was wondering what the heck is going on up there in North Keller.  This morning’s story update helped answer that when the fact that both parties had been drinking was added.

Anyhow, this is why I bring Malcolm in if it looks like he’s going to bark for an extended period of time:

KELLER—A 38-year-old man begged his neighbor not to shoot him a second time early Sunday after the two argued over a barking dog, police said Monday.

The shooter didn’t, but he said, “Get off my … property,” to another person who tried to help the wounded victim, police said.

Police identified the suspect as Edward M. Stewart of Keller who was free Monday after posting bail Sunday night.

Stewart, 49, was arraigned late Sunday on a charge of attempted murder, two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one charge of deadly conduct.

The 38-year-old neighbor remained in a Fort Worth hospital Monday suffering from a gunshot wound to the stomach.

Along with his neighbor, Stewart accidently wounded his own wife during the incident, police said.

The shooting happened at about 12:34 a.m. Sunday in the 1300 block of Robin Court after Stewart and the victim had been arguing through a fence about the dog.

According to police reports, the victim was having a fantasy football party and the dog had been barking.

“The two were at the fence when the suspect told the victim that he would fight him if he climbed over into his backyard,” Keller police Lt. Brenda Slovak said Monday. “The victim climbed over the fence into the backyard.”

Stewart and the victim were both intoxicated, according to police reports.

The two pushed each other for a few minutes, police said Monday. At one point, Stewart’s wife tried to stop it, police said.

Within minutes, Stewart is accused of pulling out a revolver and shooting his neighbor in the abdomen, police said. The bullet went through the man and lodged in the leg of the Stewart’s wife, who was trying to stop the argument, police said.

“One of the friends of the victim was at the back fence, saw what happened and jumped over to help his friend,” Slovak said. “But he jumped back over when the suspect threatened him.”

Stewart’s wife was treated and released from a local hospital a few hours after the shooting.

Police had no record of responding to calls between the neighbors before Sunday.

Most of my neighbors also have dogs, and those dogs bark a lot, but fortunately they don’t do it too much at night.  Malcolm is also a prodigious barker, and if left to his own devices will bark for hours.  So I make sure to bring him in if he’s having a barking fit.  Heck, it annoys me, and he’s my dog.

It’s going to be interesting to watch this case to see how it unfolds.  There may be a chance the shooter can claim self-defense.  But given that both of these kuckleheads were drinking and fighting, it makes things more murky (i.e. depending on what was said by the shooter, the shootee might be able to claim mutual combat).  I suppose it will depend on who tells the best story to the grand jury. 

But regardless of the court outcome, I suspect that one or the other of them will probably have to end up moving.  Shooting your neighbor / being shot by your neighbor, doesn’t exactly make for warm-and-fuzzy future relations. 

Devastation and Destruction

Has anyone been over on Johnson Road to see the library lately?  If you haven’t, you might be in for a bit of a shock.  I went by there the other day and was very surprised to see that the library had essentially been gutted and a good portion of the outer walls was gone as well. 

Somehow, I had it in my head that they were just going to be adding space, rather than tearing out most of the existing building.  To my non-contractor’s eye it looks like it wouldn’t have cost us much more to have just razed it and built a new one, given how much they’re now going to have to rebuild. 

Beware The Moppets

My doorbell rang yesterday afternoon and when I opened the door I was confronted with a gang of four young moppets seeking donations for a walk-a-thon to benefit something-or-other to do with the local schools.  My first thought was that they obviously aren’t teaching reading since these girls ignored the giant “NO SOLICITORS” sign.  Or perhaps they don’t see it as soliciting.  My next thought was that I’d already given at the (tax collector’s) office, and rather generously at that.  But I just couldn’t bring myself to crush these eager young students with such thoughts. 

At this point I learned that I could either pledge a certain amount for each lap they walked or give a fixed amount.  I decided it would be simpler to just give them the money up front and the figure of $10.00 popped out of my brain as a seemingly reasonable figure.  Unfortunately, as I scanned my wallet, I determined that I had a couple of $20’s and a few $1’s.  I asked the lead moppet if she had any change and she replied that she did not.  So as I handed over the $20 I couldn’t help but think that not carrying any change is an effective strategy for driving up collections.

Water Conservation Success (sort of)

Keller recently adopted an ordinance banning outdoor watering between 10:00am and 6:00pm.  And except for the neighbor immediately behind me, it seems to be working.  I’ve recently noticed increased water pressure during the days.

In fact, the pressure is so high that I was treated to an unexpected shower yesterday when I went to get some water from my refrigerator’s water dispenser.  The water was shooting out so fast that it was deflected off the ice in the cup and splashed me and everything in a 3-4 ft. semicircle around the front of the refrigerator. 

I’m definitely going to have to be more careful from now on when I fill my cup.

I’m On Ur Street Impedin Ur Traffic

As I’ve written about before, I’m a member of the Keller CERT.  While our primary mission is disaster preparedness, we also do community service.  Generally this service is in furtherance of the mission of preparedness, but we also do other things just to stay busy.  Which is why we are often called upon to help out by staffing barricades during parades.  Some of us have had some traffic control training (primary rule: never turn your back on traffic) and even those who haven’t can at least stand at a barricade and tell people to go elsewhere.  raspberry

Yesterday afternoon was the annual Lion’s Club parade, and I ended up on the barricade on Bear Creek at Pate Orr.  Which means that I got to inconvenience a whole lot of people who hadn’t gotten the message about the parade.  I know it was published in the paper on Friday, but I’m guessing a lot of people must not be reading the paper, given the number who were surprised to find the barricade.

Most people took it in stride, though, especially those who live in the area, since they already know alternate routes to get around the parade.  But I did have a few who tried to drive around the barricade and keep going West on Bear Creek.  Or they did so until I flagged them down and made them turn back. 

The problem was that from their vantage point it looks like nothing is going on and that the barricade shouldn’t be there.  Further, it was probably confusing because some East-bound traffic was being allowed through (mainly people departing the school or from neighborhoods after the parade had passed).  But what they can’t see from there is where the tail of the parade is once it’s left Bear Creek Intermediate.  That tail can take up to 30 minutes from its departure to make its way down to Elm.  We couldn’t take the barricades down on Bear Creek until the parade had completed its trip to Elm, so to a lot of people it just looked like the road was closed for no reason.

Fortunately, no one got too upset and no one degenerated into yelling (at least at my location), although I did get one exasperated eye-roll from a woman in a small SUV. 

For those who are interested (and for future reference), here’s the parade route:

As you can see from the map, there are various ways in and out of almost all the neighborhoods that were affected, it just required some thinking to work around the route.  And for those that may be annoyed by the road closures, just be glad that they’re no longer marching down Keller Parkway like they used to do a few years ago.  That would have been a real mess.

Monitoring The Area - II

In early February I wrote about the coming 800MHz rebanding effort and how Keller would be affected.  The FCC has mandated that all public safety systems be migrated by June 26, 2008, and I had been told that this would occur for the Northeast Tarrant system on April 14th.  However, when that date came and went I started doing a little digging and came across the 800 MHz Reconfiguration Transition Administrator website, which included information about the waiver process for delaying rebanding beyond 6/26/2008.  Just out of curiosity, I entered the callsign for the system (WPFR225) into the tool and discovered that the City of Bedford (the owner of the system) had filed for a waiver ( PDF Icon ) on March 14, 2008 to extend the deadline for rebanding to December 12, 2011 because Fort Worth won’t be ready in time:

Specifically, the Licensee requests until December 12, 2011 to complete its 800 MHz rebanding.4 The public interest would be served by granting the requested waiver because it would allow Licensee to reband its 800 MHz system in a reasonable, prudent and timely manner consistent with the goals of the 800 MHz rebanding program. In support of this Request for Waiver the Licensee provides the attached Waiver Request Information Form and the following explanation of the reason(s) for not completing reconfiguration by June 26, 2008, which is consistent with the assertion that a grant of the waiver would serve the public interest:
Licensee shares a number of talk groups and is party to a mutual aid agreement with the regional 800 MHz public safety radio system operated by the City of Fort Worth. Because of the interdependencies between Licensee and the Fort Worth system, Licensee cannot complete rebanding until Fort Worth has retuned its infrastructure. The Transition Administrator also recognized these interdependencies and proceeded accordingly in generating the consolidated schedule for Region 40 following its Implementation Planning Session.

I also checked for a waiver request from Fort Worth, and found that they had submitted an interim request until June 1, 2008, at which time they would submit a request for a “permanent” waiver.  This due to the fact that they’re still negotiating with Sprint Nextel over the costs of rebanding and don’t anticipate to complete the statement of work until June 1st and won’t know until then exactly when they can complete rebanding (in other words, they gave the FCC what we refer to as a “date for a date” in the IT business). 

Given all this negotiating and delaying, I suppose there’s no longer any need to rush out and buy a $500 scanner to continue to be able to listen to Keller and surrounding cities.  Perhaps by the time they get around to actually rebanding the prices will have come down a little.

Monitoring The Area

A couple of weeks ago I was asked what kind of scanner to get to be able to listen to police and fire in Keller.  My answer was that it’s a bit complicated at the moment, and likely to be expensive, depending on how things shake out in the future.  This post is an attempt to add some detail to that and to provide this information to anyone else who may be interested.

Background and Basics
The first thing that you need to know is that Keller is a participant in the Northeast Tarrant County Motorola 800MHz trunked system. 

Trunked?  What’s the heck is that?  It can be a bit complicated, but here is the basic explanation.

Trunking is a way of using a set of frequencies in a more efficient manner than the old conventional way. In the past, each agency in a political sub-division would get some frequencies licensed to them and then would use those discrete frequencies just for themselves. Since there is a finite amount of available radio spectrum, as the number of users increased crowding and interference occurred.

Trunking is the use of several repeaters, on different frequencies in the same band, operating together under computer control to allow the pooling of resources for several agencies.

The trunking radio, in a patrol car for example, is much more sophisticated than the simple transceiver previously used in a simplex or repeater configuration. The trunking transceiver is a frequency agile radio capable of receiving instructions and changing frequencies on the fly. All trunked radios operate in a similar manner although the type of trunking technology used by each type of trunked radio system differs greatly.

In the trunked radio environment, each agency is assigned one or more talkgroups that the agency’s communications will use. All agencies on the system will have different talkgroups but all will share the same pool of frequencies.

I’d suggest reading the entire article I linked above from the Radio Reference wiki, as it’s important to understand the concepts if you’re going to attempt to program a scanner (your scanner’s manual will reference some of the same vocabulary, such as “talk groups” and “control channels”).

The Nextel Interference Problem/Rebanding
If it weren’t for Nextel, you’d be able to go down to Radio Shack or some of the online dealers and buy yourself a “trunk tracker” scanner.  After a little programming (which some of the dealers will do for you), you would be able to listen to everything.  And, in fact, you could still do this today.  The problem will occur in the near future, when your trunk tracker will stop working if you don’t understand what’s changing and how to accommodate the changes.

So what does Nextel have to do with this?  It turns out that those silly little walkie-talkies aren’t really a cellular service, but are instead classified by the FCC as an “Extended (or Enhanced) Specialized Mobile Radio” service (ESMR).  They are the largest ESMR provider, and are licensed in the same frequency ranges as public safety repeaters (in the 800 MHz band).  The interference problem occurs because their ESMR transmitters may be pushing up to 3kW, while public safety systems are operating at between 125 and 300 Watts.  Even though they are on different frequencies, they’re close enough that the much higher power of the Nextel signals can completely obliterate the lower-power police and fire transmissions.

To fix all this, the FCC has redesignated the spectrum allocation so that ESMR has a contiguous block far enough away from the public safety frequencies so as to prevent interference.  Nextel will be paying for the rebanding and in return is being given some RF spectrum in the 1.8 GHz range.

What this means for scanners
In order to follow a trunked system, scanners must understand the type of system and be able to decode the control channel to determine which frequency will be used for a transmission on a given talkgroup.  In some trunked systems, rather than send the actual frequency in the control channel data they use an index into a frequency table (this reduces the amount of data that has to be sent over the control channel).  When rebanding occurs, the frequency tables will change.  Some scanners have these tables hard-coded in ROM and will not be able to be changed.  These scanners will quit working with trunked systems when those systems have been rebanded.  Others have the tables in flash-upgradeable firmware.  Provided that the scanner’s manufacturer provides a firmware upgrade, these scanners should be able to work after rebanding. 

Unfortunately, many of the most affordable scanners fall into the non-upgradeable category.  So finding a scanner that will work today and into the future has become more expensive (due to having to get the newest and/or more high-end models).  While Nextel is reimbursing the public safety licensees, they have no obligation to pay us for new scanners.  smirk

How does this affect Keller?
The upgrade will happen in phases.  The first phase, to be undertaken in the very near future (within the month I’m led to believe) is to replace all of the handhelds and all of the mobile units with newer models that can handle the new trunking scheme.  However, the radios will still operate on the existing system with the existing frequencies.  The second phase (which I don’t have any dates for) will be to actually switch frequencies.  This will be the watershed date for local scanner enthusiasts. 

Another spanner in the works: digital
But to complicate things, Keller’s new radios will all be digital capable.  While I have not heard any definite plans for switching to digital voice, the possibility of it means that a scanner purchaser should think long and hard about buying a digital trunking scanner.  The problem is that digital trunking scanners command a serious premium over their analog-only cousins at the moment (I will discuss models and prices below).

For those that do not know about these things, the difference between conventional (analog) and digital trunking is in how the voice signal is sent over the air.  In all trunking systems the control channel is digital (think of it as sort of like a modem signal) because it’s sending information about channels.  In conventional systems, though, the actual voice data is analog (i.e. generally narrow-band FM).  In digital trunking systems, the voice signal is converted to a stream of bits which is then modulated onto the voice channel (think modem again).  The advantage to digital is that additional checksum data can be sent to allow for recovery of small errors in the stream due to noisy signals.  Which means that digital voice can be much clearer than analog (it completely takes out static, pops, hiss, etc).  The disadvantage is that digital can only compensate for a small amount of lossage before the whole signal is lost (at which time you get nothing on the receiving end as compared to analog where the human ear may still be able to pull some information out of the noise).

It should be noted that digital does not mean encrypted.  It’s certainly a component of modern encrypted systems, but the majority of public safety systems that are using digital are not encrypted. 

So what scanner should I get?
That’s harder to say, as you will have to make the tradeoff between cost, ability to upgrade, and digital capability.  You will also have to consider which form-factor you want: desktop/mobile or handheld. 

There are only two major brands of scanners on the market in the United States: Radio Shack and Uniden (Bearcat).  Most (not all) of Radio Shack’s scanners are made by a company called GRE, which recently started marketing their scanners directly.  The Radio Reference wiki maintains lists of both Radio Shack and Uniden scanner models, their capabilities, and whether they can be upgraded for rebanding.  GRE is new enough on the U.S. market that all of their trunking scanners are advertised as being rebanding capable. 

Most scanners will also list in their description how many trunked systems they can follow at once.  For example, you will see phrases like “triple trunking” or “digital triple trunking”.  This means that it can follow up to three trunked systems at the same time (for example, my old Radio Shack scanner is programmed to be able to receive both the NE Tarrant system as well as the Ft. Worth system, although I have to turn Ft. Worth *off* to have any chance at all of hearing what’s happening in Keller because Ft. Worth has hundreds of talkgroups and thousands of users who seem to be talking 95% of the time). 

There are lots of online dealers out there, but I’ve had good luck so far with Scanner Master.  They carry all lines of scanners (Radio Shack, Uniden, and GRE), accessories, and (most importantly for the newbie) they offer programming services.  Even if you get the programming service, I’d recommend getting the software for the scanner and all the cables to hook up to a computer, as you can download info from Radio Reference to set up the scanner the way you want it.  As noted above I have multiple systems set up, but I also have variations on those system stored so I can limit things to a manageable level.  I have a config for the “full” NE Tarrant system (all talkgroups), one for NE Tarrant with just the Keller police and fire talkgroups, and another for Ft. Worth.  I can switch between them with the press of a button, depending on where I am and what I want to hear.

Be warned, though, that a digital trunk tracking scanner will start around $499.  If you’re willing to live without digital, trunk tracking scanners can be found in the $200-$250 range (but be sure to check that the model you choose will be able to be reprogrammed for rebanding).

Finally, the legal stuff…
Some people have the idea that scanning is illegal or some sort of violation of privacy.  Others may object to my giving the above information as it may help criminals.  First, at the Federal level the law is such that as long as you are not attempting to receive cellular or other telephone communications (i.e. cordless phones), you can generally listen to any non-encrypted transmission that you can receive.  All modern scanners come with the cellular frequencies blocked.  If a transmission is encrypted, then you may *not* attempt to decrypt it.  Each state has its own laws regarding scanner usage (both stationary and mobile), so you will need to check for yourself to see what you may or may not do.  A good resource for the laws in each state is the Scanner Laws site.  I am not a lawyer, though, so you should confirm all legal issues yourself before proceeding.

As for assisting criminals, all of the above information is freely available to the public, so I am not publishing anything new or providing anyone with special insight, other than distilling certain information into one place.


Freightliner Bounce

If you’ve read my site for a while, you might know that I’m a member of (and training director for) the Keller Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).  The CERT core mission is to provide people with the skills to know how to prepare for emergency situations and how to react if an emergency occurs.  But beyond that, the mission extends to performing community outreach, education, and service.  In Keller, we have taken on the task of providing firefighter rehab service (we also do fire extinguisher training and can provide preparedness education for anyone who wants it)

Firefighter rehab is a process for providing firefighters with nourishment, hydration, and relaxation during an incident.  Generally, the guidelines call for a firefighter to go to rehab after every second air bottle (IIRC the ones Keller uses are rated for 45 minutes, although they generally only get about 30 minutes out of them, which means firefighters get about an hour of work time on two bottles).  The FD establishes someone on their end who is in charge of tracking firefighter time and is accountable for rehabbing them.  Once that officer decides it’s time, he/she directs the firefighters (usually as a company/group) to the rehab area.  We are responsible for setting up and maintaining the rehab area.

To support our mission, the city has provided us with a truck and the necessary equipment (misters, chairs, tents, coolers, portable “facilities,” etc) .  Several of us (including me) have been through CEVO-II training (the basic course given to ambulance drivers) and carry pagers so that we can respond when called (although they don’t let us use the lights and sirens downer  ).

Up until this weekend, our truck was the old NEFDA bomb squad truck, which is an old Chevy delivery truck:

As far as I know, the city got the truck for free when NEFDA got a new bomb truck.  So the city has been paying for fuel, maintenance, and insurance (which is why they wanted us to take the CEVO class as it helps reduce everyone’s liability).  Some of you who have come to Keller FEST over the past few years may have noticed this black behemoth over by Town Hall.  We generally set up the truck there to provide information and basic first aid.  And we usually set up the misters to help with the heat:

But now that the city has purchased a new ambulance, we have been given the old ambulance to use for rehab and other CERT activities.  The old ambulance is built on a 1999 Freightliner FL50 (I think) chassis (more on this later).  Late last week a number of members met and transferred the equipment to the “new” truck from the old.  Unfortunately, the next day the new truck wouldn’t start.  long face  Murphy will not be denied, though, so of course we had a callout on Saturday for a structure fire.  We had to scramble to transfer the equipment to the old truck and haul ass over to the fire location. 

The firefighters seemed glad to have us there, even if we were delayed, but I was a bit annoyed with the equipment issue. 

After we got back from the fire, we went back to work on the new truck to get it started (it took about an hour of charging to get it back to life), and then drove it around town a bit to charge up the battery (the truck is now on an electrical tether to keep the batteries topped off and to run the systems in the “box”, just like it would have been at the station).  While driving it around we discovered the stories about the old Freightliner ambulance having a really bumpy ride were more than true.  It rides like a bucking bronco, which is probably not good for patients in the back.  And going over a bump or making a turn causes the whole truck to roll in a rather disconcerting fashion. 

The problem the city has faced is finding the right truck chassis to marry to the ambulance “box.”  There are some pretty stringent requirements from the state about what is required to go into an MICU, which drives the size and weight of the box.  So in 1998 when they spec’d the the ambulance they went with the larger truck chassis to handle the weight and for longevity.  The downside is that no matter how they tried tuning the suspension they never could get a smooth ride.  For the new ambulance they’re using a smaller truck chassis (I think it’s an F-450, but haven’t looked closely) for a better ride.

The other thing we learned during our check ride is that while the FD removed the majority of the equipment (radios, etc) they left the driver and passenger air horn foot-pedal switches in place.  If you’ve ever heard a big-rig air horn, you know how loud these things are.  While climbing up into the passenger seat, I accidentally activated the thing (didn’t realize where my foot was) and was wondering why the guy standing next to the truck on the ground was looking at me funny until I figured it out (the horn is surprisingly quiet from inside the truck).  cool grin

Lost and Found Dept: SanDisk Memory Stick PRO Duo

I recently found a florescent green 1.0GB SanDisk Memory Stick PRO Duo card.  It was in the grass next to the Bear Creek walking trail just west of the Rufe Snow bridge. 

From rummaging about its contents, I have determined the following:

  • It contains a number of pictures and videos.
  • It appears to have been used in a Sony W810i “Walkman” Phone (which also suggests the user is with AT&T/Cingular).
  • The user is either named Megan or knows someone named Megan who turned 17 in June (based on the photo of someone’s birthday cake).
  • The user may have attended a concert by “The Fray” on or about 7/12/2007 (judging by the audio and video recordings).

I realize this it’s a long shot, but perhaps some of my Keller readers might recognize this young lady (who I believe is the owner of the phone):

According to the picture’s metadata, the above was taken on 6/22/2007 at 5:06pm using the W810i.

If you know the owner of the card, hit the “Contact” link at the top of the page to let me know.  I will make arrangements for its return.

Chasing The Gas

I got an interesting postcard in the mail over the weekend.  It concerns a public meeting to be held tomorrow about a new gas well in the Bear Creek Park area.  It appears that after drilling down 1 to 1.5 miles they will go horizontal for up to 6000 feet to extract the gas, which means that it could potentially go under my neighborhood (the postcard just showed a circle with a 6000-foot radius from the well; it didn’t explain if they’d take a particular direction or not).

They also mentioned signing a lease for the drilling, which got me to wondering about mineral rights.  It occurred to me that I had never really thought about them and I didn’t know if they were transferred to me with the house or not.  It certainly wasn’t on any of the paperwork I signed (and I took another look yesterday to be sure).  It appears that the drilling company knows something I don’t (we suspect that they used the county records to decide who to send cards to).

I guess I will attend the meeting to see what this is all about and whether I stand to get anything out of it.  If anything I wouldn’t expect more than a few dollars, though, given the size of my lot.  I’m certainly interested to know more about horizontal drilling and rock fracturing, though.  Even if it’s 1.5 miles below me, I start to get a bit nervous when you propose to “fracture” the rock.  The last thing we need is an earthquake…