Isle of Wight works with Suffolk for radio system

Published 12:22 pm Wednesday, June 15, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The cost of the new public safety radio system dropped from an estimated $11 million to a $6.8 million due to an arrangement with the city of Suffolk.

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As a result, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors Thursday agreed to move ahead with an agreement with Motorola to install an 800 MHz public safety radio system for the county.

There was praise all around for the “cast of characters,” as described by interim County Administrator Sanford “Sandy” Wanner, who worked on setting up the system that will provide regional coverage from Gloucester to south of the James River. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“This is an example of the region coming together,” said Windsor Supervisor Joel Acree, who is also a first responder in York County — also one of the localities, as well as Suffolk, that worked to put the system together.

Wanner said Isle of Wight County will still borrow money to pay for the system, at an estimated $8 million to cover unexpected and related expenses.

Based on timelines provided by the Federal Communications Commission, the system has to be up and running by December 2018, Wanner said.

Isle of Wight had already moved ahead and obtained an extension on the FCC licenses necessary to operate an 800 MHz system.

Acree emphasized that the radio system was for all first responders — law enforcement and fire and rescue — and not just for the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office. The latter was a misconception that circulated around the county because Sheriff Mark Marshall initially took the lead on the project.

Rushmere Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson, who is also a first responder with the Rushmere Volunteer Fire Department, pointed out that the new system would provide 95 percent coverage, 95 percent of the time in every building.

While Rushmere and Carrsville had a long-standing problem with lack of coverage, first responders also often had trouble with transmissions within buildings, such as schools, located in the town of Smithfield.

The current system used in Isle of Wight is not only outdated in terms of bandwidth, it is also what Marshall called a “hodgepodge” of equipment serviced by different vendors.

Isle of Wight currently operates and maintains the countywide towers and repeater sites, except in Smithfield, which also has its own tower and repeater site. The county’s seven fire and rescue stations, the Sheriff’s Office and the Smithfield and Windsor police departments each buy and maintain its own radio equipment. All of the radios work off the county towers, except for the Smithfield Police Department.

A study released earlier this year by Engineering Associates LLC of Alpharetta, Georgia suggested that Isle of Wight purchase the new system and charge the towns of Smithfield and Windsor a user fee.  {/mprestriction}