Orange County Insight February 2022

New Radio System Connects the Dots for Orange County Public Safety

By: Orange County Communications Department

The new public safety P25 land mobile radio system, sourced through L3 Harris, is already making waves throughout our public safety agencies and beyond. Far from a simple upgrade, Maj. Mike LaCasse, one of the project managers, described it as moving “ from the stone age to the computer age. ” The Orange County Board of Supervisors prioritized public safety upgrades over the last several years, paving the way for the construction of a public safety building, P25 radio system, and Computer Aided Dispatch system. The P25 radio system is state of the art and enables the County ’ s first responders to communicate in real time both internally and externally.

Prior to the new system, agencies were operating antiquated and incompatible frameworks, which made collaboration and communication cumbersome. The new P25 system created a shared communications platform for multiple community organizations including: the Orange County Sheriff ’ s Office, County of Orange Fire & EMS, Orange County Public Schools, Volunteer Fire & EMS Agencies, the Police Departments of Gordonsville and Orange, Lake of the Woods Security, and the Central Virginia Regional Jail. The system also drastically expanded available communication groups, or talkgroups. Chris Cord, Director of the Orange County Emergency Communications Center, elaborated on this capability. A “ big difference is the number of available talkgroups. We went from about 5 channels to having over 100! This improves operations as we can dedicate system talkgroups to incidents and radio traffic will not overlap or interfere. ”

Prior to the new radio system ’ s launch, only three (3) radio towers were in service and coverage in Orange County was approximately seventeen percent (17%). Now, coverage is up to ninety - six percent (96%), thanks to six (6) strategically placed towers, most of which are owned and operated by Orange County. The tower network provides for redundancy. Towers are supported by fiber connectivity, microwave connections, or both, which enables the tower communication network to maintain service if any portion should fail. Furthermore, contract guarantees with our vendors ensure that any such failure would be short - term. As a result, all agencies and organizations connected through the P25 system can count on reliable, real - time communications. Reliability is key, even for individual radios. To ensure redundancy, each is equipped with programming that allows users to transmit data from a secure Wi - Fi network when radio signal is not adequate. Additionally, the software can be downloaded to a cellular device and used anywhere cellular signal is

available, allowing use of the device in a manner very similar to an actual radio.

The technological advances associated with the multiple public safety projects are in good hands. They are monitored by a dedicated Radio System Manager with the Orange County Information Technology Department. In the end, Orange County citizens are direct recipients of the new P25 system. From school bus communications, to missing person searches, to fire response calls, a cohesive and collaborate public safety response helps make our community safer. Sheriff Mark Amos recognized the diligent efforts of staff working on the project, “ First, I want to thank Major Mike LaCasse and Stephanie Straub for overseeing this project. They have done a fabulous job in seeing this project to a successful end. We now have a reliable radio system that will make all Law Enforcement, Fire and EMS better and safer. ”

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