Grant to pay for 911 radio study

Shenandoah County has received a federal grant to pay for the next step toward upgrading its aging emergency 911 equipment.

The $75,000 grant helps cover the cost of a joint project with Page County to study the needs of their emergency 911 communications systems. Page County also received $75,000. R. Jason Malloy, director of emergency communications for Shenandoah County, has explained to the Board of Supervisors on several occasions the general needs of the agency, such as the replacement of its aging equipment.

In general terms, they know what they need, Malloy said Tuesday. “In the bigger picture, in the larger scope of things, though, what the needs assessment will do, it’ll allow us to bring in a consultant who can look at a variety of different factors.”

Shenandoah County could benefit from the joint effort with Page.

“Hopefully, we can identify shared infrastructure as part of the project,” Malloy added. “If a tower was erected on Big Mountain, that would certainly be a piece of infrastructure that could be shared between the jurisdictions … By sharing the infrastructure, that would then give us a much-needed level of inter-operability between the two jurisdictions. It would essentially create one contiguous radio system versus having … a radio system here and a radio system there.”

Consultants could look at radio coverage, Malloy said. Computers can look at height of radio transmission towers, strength of transmitters in terms of wattage output, topography and trees and then draw a map of the theoretical coverage of the emergency radios based on the system, Malloy explained. Consultants then meet with law enforcement and fire and rescue agencies and ask how the radio coverage they experience compared to the theoretical map – where do the radios work and don’t. The process gives the consultant an accurate picture of radio coverage. The consultants then ask the agencies about their needs – types of radios and necessary features, Malloy said.

“They’ll sit down with the various county agencies that also have a need for communication,” Malloy said. “Those are kind of the behind-the-scenes folks that people don’t really typically think about when they think about a radio system, a countywide system.”

The Shenandoah County Landfill employees often use handheld radios to communicate in the field, Malloy noted.

“So they’ll really take a holistic approach to the radio system,” Malloy said. “We’re looking at it from our perspective and, you know, what is it that we need, what do we know that we have – things like that. But they’re actually gonna look at it from everybody’s point of view and they’ll put that together as a recommendation for a type of radio system, not a particular manufacture but, here are the parameters for how your radio system should function and what type of components should you have moving forward.”

Ultimately the county would use the report created by the consultant to advertise requests for proposals and seek bids from radio manufacturers for new systems and equipment, Malloy said. The consultant also would help the county assess the bids up to the point that officials decide

“Just because we do a needs assessment doesn’t not specifically lock us in saying we absolutely have to,” Malloy said. “That’s certainly going to be the prerogative of the Board of Supervisors, of course, as a capital purchase. But it gives us the information that we can present to the board.”

Malloy said he didn’t know when the county can expect to receive the grants nor has he received word from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management that administers the funds.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced this week that 99 projects across the state would receive $5.7 million in federal grants to enhance emergency preparedness and security. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management administers the funds to support the ability of local governments to sustain a wide array of emergency preparedness and security operations, equipment replacement, training, planning and exercise programs.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137, ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com.