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RadioDozens of first responders met at the Fluvanna Library on Thursday (Aug 24) to learn the ins and out of their new radio system as the county prepares to switch on the new E911 towers on August 31.

“We are very excited,” Emergency Manager Cheryl Elliott told the crowd. “As you know, this was 20 years in coming.”

Coverage testing was completed on Tuesday. Out of 11,000 half-mile squares in the coverage area, only five failed.

“There are still some issues along Bremo and the river,” Elliott said, but it was more than good to set the date for the “cut-over” to the new system.

The Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office will be the first to switch over. At 10 a.m., on Aug 31, dispatchers will alert all units to turn on their new radios, followed by a roll call to make sure everyone is on the system. At 10:30, each of the fire stations will switch over, with their own roll calls. By afternoon, all county emergency services will be broadcasting over the new towers.

“With any system, when you turn it on, you find bugs,” Elliott said, so they’re planning a thirty-day “burn in” period. Once they’re sure all the kinks have been worked out, the old units will be unplugged. And then: “Party time. Celebrate.”

The multi-year, multi-million-dollar project saw the construction of new radio towers and new equipment. Public safety officers will now be able to broadcast and communicate across 95 percent of the county, compared to just 35 percent  under the old communications network.

At the meeting, people got a good look at the new Motorola handheld radios, which offer greater functionality and range than their current devices. 

One new feature is a dedicated emergency button, which creates an open channel to dispatch and all surrounding units for a period of 10 seconds -- just enough to give location, name, and unit at a critical moment. “I am extremely tickled to death with it,” said Fire Chief Mike Brent. “It’s the one feature I insisted on.” 

As the night went on, it was clear that some old procedures were going to have to change and everyone was going to have to learn new ways of doing things, especially once the dispatch center is updated with new equipment in the summer of 2018. “The next year,” said Elliott, “is going to be just a little bit of a transition.”