The city of Danville, Va., is currently overhauling its emergency responder network by switching from a privately owned copper line infrastructure to a city-owned microwave system.

Danville, located on Virginia’s southern border, previously relied on a copper line network for its police, fire and public works radio systems, all of which used the same network infrastructure for its backbone.

Through a phased approach that began two years ago, Danville is overhauling the existing system by rolling out a microwave network developed by Exalt Communications. According to Danville’s Administrative Division Director Barry Doebert, the mobile radio service system upgrade allows the city’s emergency responders to send clearer voice transmissions over the network and transfer more data between locations.

Nearly 1,000 employees utilize the emergency responder network, all of whom use some type of mobile or handheld radio connected to the network.

Since the copper system was privately owned, Danville was required to lease circuits for a monthly fee, said Erik Chambers, communications systems manager of Danville.

“With the microwave network, there was an option to save money for the city by not having to pay a monthly fee,” Doebert said. “And it had more capability to expand for the future.”

The city paid $50,000 to roll out the new microwave network. Danville now has complete ownership, and therefore, can determine how to operate and maintain its network, Doebert said.

But newer infrastructure wasn’t the only incentive pushing Danville to upgrade. Like other jurisdictions across the nation, Danville’s radio system overhaul was also motivated by the FCC’s January deadline for moving public safety and “business industrial” land mobile radio systems to narrowband channels.

According to the FCC, licensees of mobile radio systems that didn’t meet the mandatory narrowbanding requirements on Jan. 1, 2013, would be subject to “serious consequences, possibly including the loss of their licenses.”

Other efforts to meet this year’s FCC narrowbanding mandate included Maryland’s rollout of its statewide first responders radio system. The First Responders Interoperable Radio System Team (Maryland FiRST) allows multiple state agency radio systems to integrate onto a single interoperable network.

The Fiber Alternative

Danville officials also decided against rolling out fiber to support their network. According to Doebert, labor costs to install fiber and maintain the infrastructure made the option less cost-effective than the microwave option.

Chambers said that within roughly three years, the city will have paid for the network.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.