New communications network planned
June 17, 2021
With the recent designation as a federal 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation and a grant from the Chamber of Commerce, the McKenzie Community Communications (MCC) group says it’s ready to move forward.
In April the MCC took over a free access public wifi spot in Rainbow that had been established by volunteers from the Oregon Internet Response (OIR) team after the Holiday Farm Fire.
“Thanks the McKenzie Chamber, we’re now planning to set up another public access site in Blue River or McKenzie Bridge,” according to MCC president Ken Engelman. “That grant will not only pay for buying new equipment, it will also cover operational costs for a year,” he said. “Until now we’ve been paying for everything out of our own pockets.”
Steve Severin, another member of the MCC board, has been busy lately scouting out sites where new communications towers could be located. In addition to existing towers at Mt. Hagen and Belknap Butte, other potential locations for microwave and radio repeaters include Harvey Mountain and Castle Rock.
“These aren’t ‘Walkie Talkies’ that have a limited range,” Severin said, “A GMRS network uses ‘repeaters’ - relay stations on mountain tops - that can ‘repeat’ your conversation over much greater distances.”
A GMRS radio costs about $100. They require a $35 license for an entire family that is good for 20 years, and doesn’t require any tests.
“The GMRS system we’re exploring is based on our continuing relationship with ORI,” according to Kevin Leinbach, McKenzie Community Communications secretary/treasurer. “We’re continuing to work with them as our technical advisers so we’ll be sure to buy equipment that is best suited to provide reliable connections throughout the McKenzie Valley area at all times.”
In general, GMRS radios are very versatile. People can communicate with other vehicles as they travel down an interstate, while hiking or camping in cell phone “dead areas” or for emergencies.
“That’s the basis on why we want to build the network,” Leinbach said. We plan to continue to work with organizations involved in constructing a solar powered microwave network with feeds from both Eugene and Bend. That will assure in any future emergencies, from fires to flood to earthquakes, we’ll have a reliable communications network that will ensure the safety of the public.”