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Military Radio Signals are Jamming Garage Doors

Published on Tuesday, April 26

By Liz Babiarz

News-Post Staff

FREDERICK -- For Joan Magaha and her husband, Douglas, the "big problem" with their garage door opener began in January.

"We sit and push and push the button, but the door doesn't go up," Mrs. Magaha said. "... We get stuck outside."

At first, the Young Place resident thought she needed new batteries. She later learned the culprit was a radio signal coming from Fort Detrick.

In November, the fort installed a new Land Mobile Radio communications system, which links Fort Detrick with 10 other installations in the national  capitol region.

So far, 36 residents have complained to Fort Detrick about the signal jamming their garage doors.

And more people could be impacted when the radio system is fully launched in the coming days, Army officials warn.

"It's all a matter of timing," said Michael Batt, Fort Detrick's senior telecommunications engineer. "If you're clicking your opener at the same time a  transmitter is working, it will jam your door."

Fort Detrick's radio system operates on the same frequency as about 90 percent of remotely operated garage door openers. The Army's radio signal is so strong it overpowers the signal between a person's handheld transmitter and the receiver. The interference can reduce the range of the transmitter or prevent the door from opening altogether.

"We're doing everything we can to limit the impact on our neighbors," said Col. John Ball, U.S. Army garrison commander. "But this is a system that
allows first responders to communicate, and its needed."

Considered a Homeland Security initiative, the radio system aims to eliminate communication problems like those that occurred during the Sept. 11  attacks. It allows first responders to communicate long-range via walkie-talkies.

Right now, the radio system stretches from Site R, in Thurmont, up to Fort Hamilton, N.Y. By 2008, about 120 military bases will have the technology, said Lt. Col. Chris Conway, a Pentagon spokesman.

Because the fort's radio system is here to stay, local residents should contact their garage door manufacturer for a solution, said Christian Devine, Fort Detrick spokesman.

The quickest fix would be to replace some parts so the opener uses a different frequency, according to David Civens, sales manager for Garage Door Openers.com, a distributor for several brands of garage door openers.

The do-it-yourself kit runs between $20 and $80, depending on the manufacturer, Mr. Civens said. It's even more if you hire a technician to do if for you.

But Mrs. Magaha doesn't think she should have to pay for a problem Fort Detrick created. "I'm not about to lay out $80 to fix a situation Fort Detrick is responsible for," she said. " ... I truly believe Fort Detrick is the problem and they should do something about it."

But Pentagon officials are quick to point out that the Department of Defense is the lawful user of the spectrum.

The frequency garage door openers use (390 megahertz) has been owned by the military since 1934. But DOD did not start using it until recently.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, garage door openers and other devices are allowed to operate at this frequency, as long as they don't cause any interference. Federal law also requires these devices to accept interference from licensed  users like the DOD.

Frederick isn't the only place interference has been detected. Garage doors have jammed in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

"We understand it's causing some interference," Col. Conway said. "But we're trying to balance the need to be a good neighbor with national security."




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