"Shadow areas" on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, on Santa Catalina Island and in Malibu, where radio signals sometimes cannot reach county emergency vehicles, will be served next year by a communications complex high on a Catalina mountaintop.
The county-funded complex on Blackjack Mountain will use a microwave relay system to bounce radio signals to Catalina, then back into hard-to-reach canyon and coastal areas on the mainland.
"If a vehicle is traveling in one of these shadow areas, they cannot get good communication from command posts who are trying to reach them," said Farid Khalil, deputy director of engineering for the county Facilities Management Department.
The county's existing radio relay stations do not have a "straight shot" at the shadow areas, he said.
Khalil said the gaps in the radio network have endangered lives and created difficulties during emergencies on the southern side of the Peninsula, on northern Santa Catalina Island and in some Malibu canyons.
Lt. Bud Wenke of the Sheriff's Department said the Peninsula's coastal side and northern Catalina are the hardest areas to reach by radio.
"Right now it's impossible in some of those cliff areas, where we get cars going over and other problems," Wenke said. "Sometimes, when radio contact is attempted on Palos Verdes Drive South, it's scratchy. Sometimes it works. Sometimes you can't hear at all. And sometimes you can hear, but they can't hear back."
Capt. Mike Cummings of the county's Forester and Fire Warden Department said the Blackjack facility is viewed by his office as "a vital link" in the emergency service network.
He said his radio dispatchers have so many problems reaching response vehicles in some Malibu canyons and on the Peninsula that his department has been forced to place other fire units in strategic spots to relay radio messages to the response vehicle.
Recently, he said, a structure fire and a cliff rescue on the Peninsula required quick responses, but the relay vehicles were not immediately available to forward the radio calls.
"The situation was handled, but frankly it would have been a whole lot better if we'd had this system in place," Cummings said. "Blackjack is past due."
County paramedics also welcome the new station, which will improve radio contact in remote reaches of Catalina that are popular with hikers and campers, and along the cliff areas of Palos Verdes where climbers often get hurt.
Needed for Years
Leonard Inch, chief of special projects for the county's Emergency Medical Systems division, said paramedic communications "will be able to cover the isthmus end of Catalina, virtually all over the more remote end of the island, and that has been necessary for years."
The Sheriff's Department's Wenke said the Blackjack Mountain station will complement sweeping changes planned for the county's entire radio system.
He said a new $58-million system, approved by the Board of Supervisors this fall, will have 14 new radio relay stations--including Blackjack--and will allow sheriff's deputies to carry portable radios instead of relying solely on a car radio.
Khalil said the Blackjack complex, which will use an abandoned Army radio tower on the mountain, should be operating by late 1987. The county is seeking a developer to construct a communications building to house microwave and radio equipment.
County to Lease Complex
The complex will be leased to the county by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, which oversees most of the land on the mountainous, 48,469-acre island.
In addition to solving communication problems for county agencies, Khalil said the radio relay system will also be made available to federal agencies and private industry.
He said the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy plans to lease rights to the relay system to federal agencies such as the FBI, and private concerns such as oil companies.