Near Quantico, A Click, but Garage Door Doesn't Budge

Queen Carroll of Dale City had to buy a new garage door opener because the radio signal the old one used was overridden by signals from the Quantico Marine base.
Queen Carroll of Dale City had to buy a new garage door opener because the radio signal the old one used was overridden by signals from the Quantico Marine base. "I feel there should be some kind of compensation," she said. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 26, 2007

Users of one of suburbia's most basic conveniences -- the garage door opener -- are locked in an odd situation with the U.S. Marine Corps.

A strong radio signal coming from the Quantico Marine base in Prince William County is neutralizing perhaps hundreds of the remote controls that move the garage doors up and down.

The Marines are using a frequency that is also used by some remote controls. The powerful signal shuts down any remote in its bandwidth, no matter who is holding it -- mothers with screaming children trying to get groceries in the house or gridlocked motorists looking for a light at the end of their commute. Nothing can be done but get a new system operating on a non-conflicting frequency.

Queen Carroll of Dale City, a widow in her early 70s, shelled out a few hundred bucks to get a new receiver and remote. She'd like to send the bill to the Marines. Before the new system was installed, the only way she could open and close her garage door was by using a switch on the wall of the garage. That is a pain at any age, particularly in the winter.

"I feel there should be some kind of compensation," Carroll said. "I am a struggling widow, if you will, and I praise the Lord I'm still here, but I am on a budget. When things like this come up totally unexpected, it is very upsetting."

Repair shops started getting a flurry of calls as soon as the Marines began using the frequency in late December.

"I'd say that first week, just out of Prince William County, I would guess we got about 15 calls, and then since that time about 25 more calls," said Jerry Bahorich, manager of Affordable Garage Door in Stafford County. "And we're just one company. There are 15 other companies that do business in Prince William County."

Rob Roberts, sales manager at Cristar Garage Door & Controls Inc., in Sterling, estimated that hundreds of people have had their remotes neutralized.

"It is a big thing within the industry," he said. "They are taking their frequency back. It isn't just around Quantico; it is everywhere, anywhere there is any type of military installation."

Suburban residents who have experienced a disruption in their point-and-click lifestyles can blame it on national security, according to a spokesman for Quantico.

"Marine Corps Base Quantico transitioned to a new bandwidth for land mobile radios in 2005 as part of a government-mandated, Department of Defense-wide conversion to narrow-band systems from wide-band systems in military bases around the country," Lt. Brian P. Donnelly said. "The transition was made to foster more efficient spectrum use, allowing a variety of military and government organizations to better protect national security."

Garage door freeze has broken out in other areas near military installations. Just before Christmas, hundreds of people around an Air Force facility in Colorado Springs reported that their remotes died when the 21st Space Wing began testing a frequency that would be used for homeland security emergencies or threats. Two years ago, testing of the system generated a dozen calls to Fort Detrick in Maryland.

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