NORTH ADAMS -- Every week, emergency dispatchers in Greene County, N.Y., are cut off from radio communications with their first responders -- and the interference is coming from North Adams.
The lapse in communication, when a clear signal is vital to 911 response, is caused when North Adams emergency dispatches travel more than 50 miles and interrupt signals across the Hudson River, according to officials there.
The city's output frequency is identical to Greene County's input frequency, causing the blackout. The city's 10-watt output is enough to throw off Greene County communications, while North Adams is unaffected.
Now, North Adams -- whose signals are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -- may have to burden the cost of changing its transmission frequency for more than 200 units within the city alone.
"We're pricing what it would cost [to change frequencies]," said North Adams Fire Director Steve Meranti.
After conversations with officials at the FCC, Meranti said, it appears the solution will be to change frequencies. North Adams, not Greene County, will have to make the switch, because Greene County had been using the signal first.
An outside contractor, Comtronics Corp., applied for and was granted an FCC license on behalf of the city to use the frequency about two years ago, according to Meranti.
The company does a search for conflicting signals, Meranti said, but Greene County may have been out of its range.
An FCC spokesperson was reached by telephone but did not return a request for comment by press time.
At this point, Meranti said, it's unclear how much it could cost to adjust the city's broadcast frequency.
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said that the most sensible option would be to pay for the adjustment using funds from the annual Verizon 911 Grant. But the city is still unsure if it is allowed to apply the grant money toward those costs.
The larger inconvenience could come from the conversion process itself.
"It's a logistical nightmare," Meranti said.
Emergency services would, naturally, need to have a dependable signal throughout the switch, he said. Additionally, all of the city's more than 200 units would have to be reprogrammed, along with receivers at other departments in the area.
North Adams Dispatch reaches Williamstown, Cheshire, Savoy, Clarksburg, Florida, Adams, New Ashford and Stamford, Vt.
The city had attempted to rectify the problem over the summer, Meranti said. Comtronics redirected the city's antennas, but even after the several thousand-dollar investment, signals were still crossed up in Greene County.
"We haven't dropped the ball," Meranti said. "We had investigators out here trying to solve the problem."
Although the issue has been ongoing for years, according to Greene County officials, it's unknown how signals from North Adams could interfere with a county that is mountain ranges away.
Shaun Groden, the Greene County administrator, suggested that North Adams could be exceeding the wattage limit allotted under its FCC license.
Meranti disputed that theory, saying North Adams transmits under or at the 10-watt maximum and is "operating within our license."
It could be that "the mountains where their tower is are in line with our tower," Meranti said.
Repeaters -- which take the low-power output from handheld radios used by emergency personnel and convert it into a full-powered signal to the dispatch center -- were installed on Florida Mountain within the last few years, Meranti said. They could be contributing to the problem, but are necessary for dispatchers to communicate with personnel in places as close as the city's West End.
Whatever the cause, both governments say the issue requires a quick remedy.