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Equipment Requirements for Second Signal

While this may seem like a long list, it really comes down to a PC, a Scanner, and a couple of cables in a good location.  These details are here to help you pick the best gear and the best location.

1.  Location

While most sites end up putting the equipment for Second Signal in the fire station -- often in a chief's office -- it does not necessarily have to there.  It can be at a dispatch center, or even a member's apartment where reception is better.   We recommend the follow criteria for a location:

  • Reliable power & Internet Connectivity - A generator on site is idea
  • Good reception for your radio traffic
  • Air conditioning and heating - too much heat is the top killer of computer equipment
  • Security sufficient to prevent people from making changes or using the equipment for other things

2.  A Recent model PC

  • Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista, or Windows 7 Operating system
  • Should be a dedicated machine
  • Should be up to date with patches and updates from Microsoft
  • Should have a working internet connection

We have some sites finding great success with inexpensive "Netbook" computers.  In many cases, a notebook or netbook is ideal because once configured we can close the lid and leave the running on the shelf with a "do not touch this" sign on them.   These netbook and notebooks have another advantage, and that is a built in battery backup.  In most cases, a suitable machine is available for well under $400.  

If you do not have a working sound card, we can usually provide a USB based sound adapter and cable for $10.  In many cases, this is the best way to go as ours are very inexpensive and have proven reliable for our use.

Second Signal can provide a pre-configured system that includes a scanner, PC, cables, battery backup, and software.  If you would like us to handle that for you, let us know.

3. A radio scanner

  • Needs to have a dedicated audio-out (speaker) jack
  • Should be pre-set to scan your dispatch channel as priority, and if need be may also scan a fire ground channel.
  • A spare Motorola Minitor can be used, however it should not be programmed to tone activate and should be set in "Radio" mode.

4. Audio cable

These can vary a great deal depending on the computer and scanner you have.  Many laptops and PC's may require a "mono" audio cable (only 1 black bar on the tip).  If you have a STEREO output cable (which has two black bars on the male connector) you will likely need an adapter.  The output from some scanners is too "Loud" for many PC mic jacks. This inexpensive part can be extremely helpful in that case. 

Some recent model PCs, Notebooks, and Netbooks (particularly those by HP and Lenovo) use a new kind of audio jack which shared a single connector for both speakers and microphone.  This is based on the design by Apple for the iPod and will not work for audio input without a special adapter like this one.

If we are providing our pre-tested USB audio connector and cable, we are able to use a standard stereo cable just like you would use to connect an MP3 player to your car's in-dash stereo. 


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