Communications System



There was a time, in the not too distant past, when vessels transiting the Columbia River would pass through "dead spots" of radio coverage.


Dead spots are areas along the river where radio communications are virtually impossible due to the geography of the surrounding landscape.  In 1991 the MFSA recognized the potential for disastrous situations as the ships passed through these areas.


State-of-the-art communications systems were investigated to alleviate this problem. It was determined that a "command and control microwave repeater system using simulcast technology" would provide continuous VHF-FM radio coverage between Astoria and Portland and virtually everywhere in between. The MFSA applied for and received a federal grant to "improve the emergency and commercial communications along the Columbia River." The old radio system, which consisted of  a main "site" located at T-6 in the Port of Portland office building, and a "high-site" located in the hills west of Rainier (the two linked by a UHF radio link) and connected to the Merchants Exchange via phone line, was abandoned in favor of this newer technology. Sites, all connected by microwave, were set up at Megler Mt., Nicolai Mt., Green Mt., and on top of the 200 Market Building with the command and control consoles at the Merchants Exchange.


In addition to the system itself, new channels (frequencies) were added at the same time.  The Exchange now maintains constant watch over channels 11, 16, 18A and 5 separate tactical and command frequencies for oil spills and shipboard emergencies. They also have at their disposal channels 13, 80, and channel 14 which they set aside for phone patches from ship to shore or vice versa. Even with cellular phones becoming more commonplace the watch-standers at the Exchange, we find that 90% of communications with transiting ships on the Columbia River still come in by the more reliable VHF-FM radio.