Virginia Counties Choose Public-Safety Communications System

York, James City will link 2,000 radio users.

by / November 20, 2003
YORKTOWN and WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- York County and James City County in Virginia sought to upgrade their communications networks. The combination of inadequate radio coverage, limited available channels, aging equipment and incompatible systems prompted the two counties to work together to replace their systems.

Located in the Williamsburg area of Virginia, York County covers 108 square miles and has a population of more than 56,000 people. James City County, just west of York County, covers 144 square miles and is home to more than 49,000 people.

The counties selected Motorola 800 MHz communications system that will make communications among public-safety agencies in both counties possible for the first time.

"Interoperability between our neighboring counties is critical to homeland security and in responding to any type of emergency incident," said Terry Hall, communications manager for York County. "All of our emergency responders now will be able to talk with each other at the scene and confer with others located in James City County and other neighboring counties. If an emergency responder finds someone in medical distress or involved in a crime situation and needs to communicate quickly with police officers or responding fire units, right now they only have limited ability to do that. This new technology will change that."

For instance, when a tornado touched down in York County this past August, deputies, firefighters, road crews and EMS personnel dispatched to handle damage could not talk to each other on their radios due to lack of interoperability.

"We had trees smashing through houses, road closings and other significant damage, but we couldn't communicate that quickly to others. Our public-safety personnel had to relay information to the dispatcher to have the sheriff's department handle a task, and the sheriff's department had to relay back to the dispatcher to tell the fire department to manage another task. Meanwhile, the dispatcher was handling all the calls at the same time," said Hall.

"We have to be very creative in order to coordinate transportation, shelter and public information communications with York County," said Richard Miller, chief of the James City County Fire Department. "We do a lot of face-to-face communications, phone-to-phone and calling into various dispatchers to relay messages. It's very time-consuming."

However, when the new, interoperable system is installed by late 2004, communications will be significantly enhanced between the two counties and neighboring counties, said Miller. Dispatchers will manage communications traffic from the company's consoles located at the existing dispatch center. The company's digital portable and mobile radios will be purchased for use by public safety agencies.

"This technology offers high levels of interoperability both now and in the future," Miller said. "Because it offers both digital and analog capabilities, we'll be able to communicate directly with nearby jurisdictions that have compatible equipment, including the cities of Richmond, Virginia Beach and Newport News."

The mixed mode (digital and analog) system is designed to move into the 700 MHz band when it becomes available, enabling emergency personnel to transmit photographs and streaming videos.

More than 1,600 users are expected to come online in September 2004, including fire, sheriff, police and public works departments from both counties. Eventually, more than 2,000 users will be on the system.
Miriam Jones Chief Copy Editor