Virginia: Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Hears Proposal for New Public Safety Radio System

The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors heard a presentation from the New River Valley Emergency Communications Regional Authority (NRV 911) Monday night on issues and opportunities for the county’s public safety radio system. NRV 911 is the central dispatch center and public safety answering point for Montgomery County.

The agency’s director outlined several challenges associated with the existing system, citing concerns like interference, insufficient coverage in the county’s remote areas, capacity limitations, and issues with portable radios within buildings.

NRV 911 currently operates a UHF conventional analog radio system with a significant number of frequencies and channels. The presentation noted that Montgomery County is among the few communities of its size in the state without a trunked system. These systems, as outlined below, offer numerous benefits, including the ability to utilize multiple talkgroups (channels) without interference.

Image screenshot via the New River Valley Emergency Communications Regional Authority presentation to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.

Based on the recommendation from a public safety consulting firm, NRV 911 was advised to implement a 700/800 MHz P25 Phase II simulcast radio system. The anticipated timeline indicates that a presentation to stakeholders will take place before the conclusion of 2023, and a contract is expected to be signed by December 2024. Construction is estimated to span 30 to 36 months, with a preliminary completion date set for around August 2027.

'Trunked' radio systems differ from 'conventional' radio systems in that a conventional radio system uses a dedicated channel (frequency) for each individual group of users, while 'trunking' radio systems use a pool of channels which are available for a great many different groups of users. [Quote Source: Wiki]

Virginia’s Statewide Agencies Radio System (STARS) provides the communications infrastructure for primarily state agencies. This is a different approach than West Virginia’s Statewide Interoperable Radio Network (SIRN), which almost every county in the state has adopted (in varying degrees of use). Virginia counties, on the other hand, have created a number of P25 trunked systems, often with the participation of municipalities, independent cities, and neighboring agencies.

The director noted neighboring counties are considering changes to their systems, and Giles County recently announced an upgrade and changes to its system.

In Montgomery County, a trunked radio system makes sense. It promotes seamless communication between stakeholders, boosts coverage, and provides ample channels for operational needs during special events like Virginia Tech football games. Check out the recording of the meeting below to see the highly informative presentation.