Florida’s MED-8 Channel Amidst Radio System Migration? By Carlton W. Wells

How does an emergency medical services (EMS) agency communicate with other EMS agencies during a disaster, mass casualty incident, or other multiple-response scenes? What mutual aid radio channels are common among the other EMS agencies? What steps are needed to maintain mutual aid radio communications capabilities as EMS agencies migrate to new radio system technology independent of one another?

In the state of Florida,

  • The MED-8[1] channel serves as mutual aid radio communications between EMS agencies for statewide medical coordination, medical resource coordination, and statewide scene coordination.
  • The MED-8 channel continues amidst agencies that have migrated to other technology bands of operation (e.g., 800 MHz trunked radio systems).

Historically, radio communications for EMS in Florida operated primarily on the MED channels[2] allocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).[3] One MED channel known as MED-8 has been established as the statewide mutual aid channel for EMS communications in Florida and continues to serve that purpose. The MED-8 channel is required by the state’s EMS Communications Plan, Volume 1 (the plan) so that every EMS agency (ambulance, hospital emergency department, and dispatch) operating in Florida has the capability to communicate through that channel. The other MED channels are assigned for other EMS-specific purposes (for example, vehicle dispatch and response, local medical coordination, countywide medical coordination).

For more than 10 years, primary radio communications for many EMS agencies in the state have migrated to 800 MHz trunked radio systems. This migration has resulted in the MED channel radio equipment becoming viewed as redundant to the primary 800 MHz radio communications capability. This view has been further amplified with the FCC-mandated narrowbanding of radio channels below 512 MHz. As such, agencies were required to reduce the bandwidth of each MED channel from 25 kHz to 12.5 kHz wide by January 1, 2013. The large expense and possible replacement of mobile and portable radios based on this new requirement prompted changes in the plan. The EMS Communications Committee of the Florida EMS Advisory Council discussed the issue in detail which resulted in changes to the Fourth Edition of the plan in 2011, which are still present today in the Fifth Edition. These changes made MED-8 radio equipment optional for hospital emergency departments and most ambulances in each county.

Here is how the MED-8 channel continues to operate in Florida today: If communications for all EMS agencies in a county is through a common 800 MHz trunked radio system and their legacy MED-channel systems have been decommissioned (except MED‑8), MED-8 communications capability should be provided via a radio-to-radio patch (temporary or permanent) by the EMS dispatch center. The EMS agency should have its 800 MHz radio programmed with a designated talkgroup associated with MED-8 and connect it via a permanent patch to the actual MED-8 repeater base station radio. Alternatively, the EMS agencies’ respective talk groups should be patched temporarily by the EMS dispatch center via their dispatch console or the Florida Interoperability Network (FIN). The EMS dispatch center is still required to have MED-8 equipment to support this capability. Therefore, expenses associated with MED-8 are minimized.

Ambulances subject to deployment outside their home county per the Florida Ambulance Deployment Standard Operating Procedure are still required to have MED-8 radio equipment in those vehicles. This is required to ensure communications with EMS agencies in other counties that still use MED-8 as their EMS mutual aid channel.

The above ensures that all EMS agencies in the county (ambulances, hospital emergency departments, and dispatch centers) maintain what is collectively referred to as the EMS triangle of communications in the plan. The EMS triangle of communications addresses all the EMS communications paths (dispatch-to-ambulance, ambulance-to-hospital, hospital-to-dispatch, ambulance-to-ambulance, hospital-to-hospital, and EMS dispatch-to-EMS dispatch).

With the MED-8 channel remaining part of Florida’s mutual aid equipment profile, it continues to serve as a viable communications solution for EMS agencies in Florida as they face the challenge of radio system migration in the future—whether that entails 800 MHz, Long-Term Evolution (LTE), or other technologies.

[1] MED-8 is one of the common channel names for all MED channels specified by 47 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR), 90.20(d)(66)(i).

[2] Florida’s first EMS communications plan was implemented in 1975.

[3] 47 CFR, 90.20.