Two years after suffering communications outages that lasted anywhere from a few minutes to as long as 14 hours, Montgomery County’s public safety radio communications system received a major upgrade.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich held a news conference Thursday to highlight the features of the county’s $42 million system, which includes doubling the number of radio towers from 11 to 22.
The public safety radio communications system is used by the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, the Montgomery County Police Department, the Emergency Communications Center (911), the Department of Transportation and local governments in the county.
The new system, which has been operating since March, replaced one that county officials said had become increasingly vulnerable to disruptions. It will help improve how first responders communicate with each other, as well as with other counties as they respond to emergencies.
According to the county, the new Motorola ASTRO 25 radio system will serve roughly 8,000 active radios with the capacity up to 150,000 radios. Montgomery County, in a news release, said the “capacity of the system is 80% greater than that of the previous system to support additional radio users.”
“This new radio system is built with multiple levels of physical redundancies to minimize disruptions, which ultimately ensures better outcomes for our residents and first responders.” said Gail Roper, director of Montgomery County’s Department of Technology Enterprise Business Solutions. “It is integrated with our computer-aided dispatch to provide features such as location awareness and will pair with state-of-the-art software for future operational enhancements.”
Pete Piringer, public information officer for the county’s Fire and Rescue Service, called the upgrade “a very big deal” for public safety.
“We’ve already seen some enhanced radio coverage in some high rise buildings and basements,” Piringer said.
Piringer added the updated system has improved coverage in areas where communications used to falter in the county of more than 1 million people. That includes along the Potomac River where the department frequently responds to water rescues.
There also is improved communication in upper Montgomery County and near the Triadelphia Reservoir along the Montgomery and Howard County line, he said.
Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones called the system “a significant upgrade.”
“The new public safety radio system is a significant upgrade and has assisted with comforting police officers and dispatchers by providing reliability of clear communications,” Jones said.
“It is vitally important to have confidence in covering all of the 505 square miles in Montgomery County for any emergency call and needed communications for everyone’s safety,” Jones said.
The system will be maintained by Motorola Solutions, which has a 10-year contract with the county. The company currently operates a radio communications system that operates across Maryland.
WTOP’s Colleen Kelleher contributed to this story.