The confusion started last week when Fort Gordon unexpectedly upgraded its land-mobile radios to a 390 megahertz bandwidth, the same frequency used in automatic garage door remotes.
As a result, nearly 500 residents have called or visited the Overhead Door Co. of Augusta to complain about garage doors that fail to open and close on command.
“It’s about to kill us,” Billy Sheppard, the service manager at the company, said of the business’s increase in calls.
Though Sheppard said most complaints have been reported along Gordon Highway, faulty remotes have been encountered as far as 15 miles away from Fort Gordon.
Jason Milford lives on William Few Parkway in Evans and enters his home through the garage, where his wife parks her car. He thought boxes blocking ground sensors were the root of the problem, but he was wrong. The problem persisted after clearing the area around the alarms.
“On Sunday, I came home, sat in front of the garage in my car and pressed the remote seven or eight times before the door finally opened,” Milford said. “I was not even 10 feet away.”
Until Monday, residents such as Milford said they were baffled by the failures, adding that they changed batteries in their remotes, retrieved backup controls from utility drawers and even considered buying new systems.
At the root of the frustration is Fort Gordon, which provided no advance notice to let the surrounding community prepare forthe switch to a new emergency call system.
Fort Gordon spokesman Buz Yarnell said in a statement Monday that the Army post intended to conduct widespread public notifications on the transition but testing began “earlier than expected.”
Melanie Taylor lives across the street from Fort Gordon. She said Monday the lack of warning was upsetting.
Taylor said she used to open her garage door from halfway down the block. Now she has to get out of her car, walk inside her Hatton Court home and press the door’s inside wall button – unaffected by the upgrades – before she can pull her car under cover. In the past week, Taylor said, she has gotten soaked by the rainy weather.
“It’s spontaneous, when my remote will work and when it will not,” said Taylor, who has found some luck by pressing the remote for several seconds.
Although garage door remotes, baby monitors and cordless phones have been legally using radio frequencies for more than 40 years, the U.S. military is the authorized operator of lower-level frequencies for assisting police, firefighters and paramedics in responding to emergencies.
Under the guidelines of the Federal Communications Commission, owners of consumer gadgets are considered “unlicensed users” and must yield to military operations.
That’s been the case for decades. Only since 2004 has the Department of Defense been gradually upgrading its radio networks, increasing its activity on local bandwidths – and creating problems across the country in military communities in Connecticut, Texas and California.
In April, the installation of a stronger radio signal at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Ga., knocked out hundreds of residential garage-door remotes.
Altogether, the Door and Access Systems Manufacturers Association estimates that as many as 40 million U.S. homeowners with overhead garage door openers are vulnerable to interference from land-mobile radio systems.
Although the glitches are usually brief and only temporarily reduce the operating range of the wireless controls, the bad news is that the onus is on garage door opener manufacturers to resolve any interference with their systems, according to the FCC.
Sheppard said customers have three options. They can wait to see whether Fort Gordon fixes the glitch; place a special order of between $150 and $170 for a 315 megahertz Molex receiver; or buy a new, next-generation dual-frequency garage door system for $500.
So far, Sheppard said no one has chosen to spend any money.
“At this point,” he said. “Everyone is taking a wait-and-see approach.”