Surry radio upgrade nearly complete

Published 4:52 pm Friday, January 12, 2024

Surry County expects its new 700 MHz public safety radio system to come online by the end of the month.

Surry’s emergency services station on Route 10 currently uses a circa-2005 VHF radio system similar to what’s used on civilian motorboats, which only reliably covers half the county.

In mid-2021, the county contracted with Fairfax-based Federal Engineering Inc. to oversee the 18-month $5.4 million upgrade that’s now nearing completion.

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In 2022, Surry signed a contract with Motorola. According to Federal Engineering project manager David TerMorshuizen, who’s company has continued to provide support and oversight of the new system’s implementation, the new radios will achieve 98% portable coverage countywide and allow up to six concurrent radio conversations at a time.

Surry’s dispatch site at the Route 10 station and another transmitter at Cabin Point near the Prince George County border are linked by a new microwave system that will allow dispatchers to, if necessary, talk over field users – a function that was lacking from the old system. In mid-2023, the microwave system underwent testing at Motorola’s Chicago headquarters and last fall, underwent coverage testing in Surry, where a map of the county was divided into 1,708 grids, 98% of which demonstrated clear reception.

Surry has purchased 46 radios for its sheriff’s office, another 117 for its emergency medical services and volunteer fire departments, 36 for its school system and another six for its public works department, for a total of 205 units.

“We’re really excited about where we are now,” Surry Emergency Services Chief Ray Phelps told the county’s supervisors in December.

Phelps said he and his personnel recently conducted a hands-on test and was able to send and receive transmissions even from outside the county in Wakefield.

On Jan. 4, the supervisors voted unanimously to approve just over $193,000 to add a fifth channel to the system, which Phelps said would help keep the system from being overwhelmed in the event of a mass-casualty event. According to County Administrator Melissa Rollins, Surry has enough flexibility in its contracts with Federal Engineering and Motorola to absorb the additional cost without increasing the project’s budget.

Isle of Wight County underwent a similar switchover in 2018 after purchasing an 800 MHz system for roughly $8 million. According to Phelps, Isle of Wight’s system uses a slightly different technology, known as frequency division multiple access or FDMA, while Surry’s system uses time division multiple access or TDMA. As such, one of the remaining steps will be to add FDMA compatibility to allow Surry to, if necessary, communicate with Isle of Wight and the region.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction; I thank everyone that was involved, said Daniel Mattox, training and safety captain with the Claremont Volunteer Fire Department.

Phelps anticipates being able to use the system internally by the end of January while the county continues to work on integrating it with neighboring localities and signing updated mutual aid agreements.