Surry switches on new public safety radio system

Published 5:04 pm Monday, February 26, 2024

Surry County’s new 700 MHz public safety radio system went live on Feb. 20.

Surry’s emergency services station on Route 10 previously used a circa-2005 VHF radio system that only reliably covered half the county. Surry contracted with Motorola in mid-2022 for the nearly two-year $5.4 million upgrade that demonstrated 98% countywide coverage during testing.

On Jan. 4, Surry’s supervisors voted to approve just over $193,000 to add a fifth channel to the new system, which Emergency Services Chief Ray Phelps said would help keep the system from being overwhelmed in the event of a mass-casualty event. 

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In a Feb. 20 news release, County Administrator Melissa Rollins said the entire project was completed on time and on budget. The county’s 2021 contract with Fairfax-based Federal Engineering Inc. to oversee the project, Rollins told the supervisors last month, had enough flexibility to absorb the cost of the fifth channel without exceeding the $5.4 million cost.

Surry’s dispatch site at Route 10 and another transmitter at Cabin Point near the Prince George County border are now linked by a new microwave system that will allow dispatchers to, if necessary, talk over field users – a function the old system lacked.

Weeks of training, installation and distribution of the new mobile radios in school buses and fire apparatus followed the January vote. Surry 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.

“The new system represents a significant step forward in public safety communications and a success in the county’s ability for public safety, first responder personnel and volunteers to effectively communicate daily,” Rollins said in the news release. “Our emergency communications will have stronger radio coverage (98%) throughout the county, which means emergency services stakeholders, including sheriff, volunteer fire, rescue and bus drivers will now be able to communicate with the newest equipment critical to providing reliable and dependable communications when it is needed most.”

Rollins said the increased coverage will also enable better communications with neighboring jurisdictions in the event of a regional incident.

Isle of Wight County underwent a similar switchover in 2018 after purchasing an 800 MHz system for roughly $8 million.

Surry is planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a to-be-determined location and date, which will include demonstrations of the new system followed by a tour of the Surry County Rescue Squad and Emergency Operations Center.