Botetourt County to invest in new public safety radio system

FINCASTLE, Va. (WDBJ7) - Botetourt County is working to improve communication between first responders while they're responding to incidents.

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The county has had the same public safety radio system for more than 20 years, and as times change, so does signal quality.

First responders like Lt. Scott Gathje with the Sheriff’s Office want to hear what’s going on when they are out on patrol.

"I have a sergeant who you can hear on the radio right now who is also out on patrol," Gathje said.

Those messages are critical, especially when crews are responding to a scene.

"I mean that communication is key," Gathje said.

But the signal isn't always clear.

"Obviously we have some areas in the county that are much more difficult to speak on than others," Gathje said.

For more than two decades the county has used the same public safety radio system.

Changes in the landscape, like new trees, have made it more difficult to communicate in certain areas.

"Areas that maybe had a much stronger ability to talk, might be a little bit weaker now," Botetourt County Fire & EMS Chief Jason Ferguson said.

That's part of the reason why the county is planning on investing millions of dollars to make changes to towers and overhaul their communication system.

"Really it's a safety factor. It's a safety factor for the responders and a safety factor for the public. If we can't communicate, then those urgent messages can't get back to our dispatch center and their messages can't necessarily get to us," Ferguson said.

The move to a digital system will make it easier for dispatchers to communicate between different agencies even outside of county lines.

"We have to be able to continue to provide a certain level of service, and without good communication that level of service is not going to be there," Communications Supervisor Nicole Manspile said.

It’s an investment that will give deputies like Lt. Gathje peace of mind.

“I think this is an upgrade that’s needed,” Gathje said.

The upgrades will be part of a multi-year project that could cost the county upwards of $10 million.

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