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 Maritime Fire & Safety Association (MFSA) recognized the potential for disastrous situations as the ships passed through these areas.
MFSA is committed to ongoing investments to maintain an effective radio communications system. We focus on providing interoperability with vessels, regulators, fire agencies and response organizations. Sites, all connected by microwave, were set up at Megler Mountain, Nicolai Mountain, Green Mountain, and on top of the 200 Market Building with the command and control consoles at the Merchants Exchange.
The Merchants Exchange and MFSA 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.