Upgrading Radio Systems, Improving Emergency Response

Reporter: Rachel Schaerr | Videographer: Ira Quillen

Amherst Co., VA - Millions of dollars are going to improve 911 communications in our area.

The radio systems are going from analog to digital, and public safety officials say it will make communication faster and easier in and out of emergencies.

This includes the county and town of Amherst, Bedford city, Bedford County and the city of Lynchburg. They're all splitting $13.1 million to go digital, something they have to do.

The Amherst County 911 Center relies on its 15-year-old radio equipment to work every day. But in 2014 their vendor, Harris Corporation, will no longer support analog radio systems.

"After that date, if the system did have a technical malfunction in it and they didn't have the parts on hand to replace it, then it could technically knock down our whole system," said Gary Roakes, public safety director.

The new Regional 800 megahertz system will make the calls crisper and reduce feedback. But upgrading to digital equipment is not cheap.

"Just for the infrastructure itself, it's about $13.1 million. In addition to that we also have to replace the mobiles and portables within each jurisdiction," said Roakes.

But it's been in the works for two years and will make communication faster at a time when people need it most.

"The people in the community see the fire trucks, they see the police cars, they see the ambulances...but the things that go on in the street as far as the responders go, cannot happen without the 911 center," said Roakes.

Appomattox and Campbell Counties have opted to stay with their old radio systems. But they can use a computer program to tap into another jurisdiction's frequency.