Report: New county radio system to cost up to $10 million

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County would need to spend up to $10 million for a new emergency radio system, a recent report shows.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday heard the needs assessment report on the county’s radio system as the equipment nears the end of its useful life.

The report, presented by Mission Critical Partners project manager Mike Milas, suggests the county stay with UHF because frequencies remain available and it requires fewer sites than would a 700 or 800 megahertz system. The county needs a simulcast system and more radio sites to improve coverage. A shared system did not offer many advantages. The report recommends the county go with either a new conventional or trunked simulcast system featuring five sites on UHF

A conventional, simulcast system would cost an estimated $8 million. A phase II trunked simulcast system would cost about $10 million.

The county uses three independent radio sites and conventional analog technology. The public safety component operates on UHF frequencies and users of the system include the Sheriff’s Office, four town police departments, the Department of Fire and Rescue, 11 fire or rescue stations, county administration, the landfill  and the public works agencies in Mount Jackson, Strasburg and Woodstock. More than 800 mobile devices, portable radios and control stations subscribe to the system.

But the current system provides insufficient coverage, capacity, redundancy, security and control, and operability and interoperability, the report shows. Some of the equipment has reached its end-of-life while other parts cannot be upgraded to meet communications requirements.

The report warns that the current system’s deficiencies can negatively impact the ability of first responders to communicate. Officials with the emergency dispatch center, law enforcement, fire and rescue have expressed safety concerns regarding the system’s deficiencies.

Board members asked questions about the system and the report’s recommendations. However, no board members raised the question of how the county would cover the cost to replace the aging system.

As board Chairman Conrad Helsley noted, the county would need to use a temporary radio system during the replacement process. Milas said the county likely would not need to pay to use the temporary equipment.

The Department of Emergency Communications,  which participated in the assessment with other county agencies and law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel, would need to renovate the system space given the size of the new equipment, department Director R. Jason Malloy told the board.