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VOLUSIA COUNTY, FL – In this modern age, effective and reliable communications is essential. In an emergency, it can be a matter of life and death. Years in the making, a $24.6 million upgrade to Volusia County’s public safety radio system earned the County Council’s unanimous approval on Tuesday.
All first responders in Volusia County – law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services – rely on the radio system to communicate with each other in the field, receive real-time updates and stay connected to the dispatch center while responding to emergencies. The existing 800 MHz system, which supports more than 9,000 radios, is nearly 30 years old and the technology has reached the end of its life cycle. In many cases, replacement parts are no longer available. Meanwhile, public safety radio needs have advanced beyond the capability of the units currently in use.
Developed by public safety professionals, P25 standards for two-way radio systems have become the industry norm because of its enhanced reliability and the ability for radios on different radio systems to communicate with each other regardless of the manufacturer. Interoperability, or the ability to effectively connect with other radio systems, is particularly important in fast-moving events that involve multiple jurisdictions. In fact, it’s absolutely crucial for the safety and protection of both residents and responding officers.
“It is critical that the county’s public safety land mobile radio be upgraded to a modern P25 system now to ensure the continued reliability of public safety communication,” the county stated in a 2019 document seeking bidders for the new system.
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The county has been planning for years for the new system and the related costs. On Tuesday, while approving the project, council members said the expense is an absolute necessity.
Last year, the County Council selected Communications International, Inc. of Vero Beach, the same company that implemented its original radio system, to implement the new P25 system. Because of the complexity of the project, the contract took months to write and negotiate. On Tuesday, the culmination of years of planning resulted in the council approving the spending of $24,657,650.97 to upgrade the radio system. The bulk of the money, about $23.5 million, is for the system backbone such as tower site equipment and dispatch consoles as well as approximately 3,300 new radios as well as upgrades to existing radios. The contract also includes maintenance for 17 years after the system is completed.
“We all know we must maintain and update our communications infrastructure. It’s so important,” said Councilwoman Heather Post.
“This is not a want. This is an absolute necessity,” added Councilman Ben Johnson. “This is something that’s so important to our public safety that we just cannot overlook it.”
As part of the upgrade, the county plans to increase the number of towers from 13 to 15 to improve radio coverage. One of the new towers is in Bunnell, a site that the county is sharing with Flagler County. The other new one is planned to be built on Lake Harney Road in Osteen. The expenditures that the council approved on Tuesday included $1 million for structural analysis, engineering and modifications of existing towers. There’s another $110,000 to pay for permitting and wetlands mitigation for the Osteen tower site and $35,000 for the infrastructure requirements associated with a replacement tower site in Barberville.
Sheriff Mike Chitwood, whose deputies are one of the biggest users of the radio system, expressed gratitude for the improved system that’s coming and said the public will be safer because of it.
“This is a crucial technology upgrade that will ensure our first responders have a state-of-the-art lifeline to get help where it’s needed,” Sheriff Chitwood said. “Our men and women in uniform are better equipped and our residents and visitors are safer thanks to this move, and I’m grateful to the County Council, administration and every member of staff for their foresight on this project.”
The entire project is expected to take approximately 2½ years to complete.