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STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTING AN 800MHz RADIO SYSTEM IN THE PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY ... - page 7 / 54

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BACKGROUND AND SIGNIFICANCE

Effective radio communications are vital for the successful mitigation of most fire

and rescue incidents. The safety of emergency personnel may be jeopardized if radio

signals are scratchy, unintelligible, or simply absent. Radio communications problems

have been found to be the most common operational obstacle in a majority of fire

department operations. Such problems affect the fire department’s ability to start,

coordinate and complete effective operations (Brunacini, 1985). Communications

systems allow firefighters and command officers to better protect the public during

emergency operations and to more efficiently provide routine services.

The current 154 MHz radio communications system is a VHF high band simplex

radio system that was installed in 1964. The original single channel system has grown to

three countywide base mobile channels with the addition of two mobile channels. There

are three main (dispatch) base stations operated remotely via microwave from the

communications center. The base stations were installed in 1987. In addition to these

channels, there are two fire mutual aid channels. There currently exist more than 700

mobile and portable fire department radios in use system wide.

The current 154 MHz radio system does not provide effective communications for

the Department. The three available radio channels are not enough to handle the peak

load periods. Emergency messages have not been able to be made in a timely fashion due

to multiple emergency incidents on such a limited number of available channels. Due to

the size of the county, coverage is quite poor in some areas and often messages from

emergency scenes have to be relayed by other users, increasing radio traffic further.

Radio transmissions have frequently been “lost” at times which can have serious safety

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