Client Success Story: MCP Assessment Leads to Upgrade of Shenandoah County's Aging LMR System
The Shenandoah County (Virginia) Department of Emergency Communications (DEC) was operating an aging, county-owned, conventional analog land mobile radio (LMR) radio system. The system featured three tower sites, operated in the ultra-high frequency (UHF) band, and consisted of components that in some cases were at least 20 years old. The DEC provides emergency-response dispatching services for five law-enforcement and 12 fire/rescue/emergency medical services (EMS) departments. It hired Mission Critical Partners to assess its legacy LMR system, which had started to experience significant performance issues.
The assessment revealed that the LMR system no longer was public-safety grade and needed replacement. Specific issues that were identified include:
- A lack of coverage and unreliable performance in many areas of the county. Users reported an inability to communicate in specific sections, which hindered the ability of emergency responders to effectively perform their roles and placed them at greater risk.
- The system’s conventional design severely limited the number of available channels, which in turn created capacity issues.
- The system was susceptible to failure due to its design and aging components, which would negatively impact the ability to dispatch emergency responders and communicate with them in the field.
- The system lacked modern radio features, such as an emergency button and encryption for specialty units, particularly those pertaining to law enforcement, and interoperable voice communications with neighboring jurisdictions.
The poor performance of the legacy system couldn’t be ignored, according to Darin Reill, MCP’s president and chief executive officer.
“The LMR radio arguably is the most important tool carried by emergency responders because without it they couldn’t perform their critical missions and would be in far greater danger,” Reilly said.
Based on the assessment DEC then hired MCP, after a competitive bidding process, to support its procurement of a new LMR system that is compliant with the Project 25 (P25) standards for digital radio systems.
What MCP Did
MCP subject-matter experts MCP identified technical specifications for a new system, facilitated the procurement process — by developing a request for proposals (RFP) document and supporting the DEC’s selection committee in its evaluation of vendor proposals — and supported system implementation, testing, and cutover.
Specific expertise provided includes the following:
- Grounding of LMR systems continues to be woefully inadequate across the public-safety sector, with potentially disastrous consequences. For example, A lightning strike on an unprotected tower not only could take out that site, but the surge could take out other sites and even DEC equipment, which could injure personnel. MCP subject-matter experts ensured that the new system is properly grounded based on industry standards and best practices.
- The COVID-19 pandemic created significant supply-chain issues that persist today. MCP’s consultants used their knowledge and vendor contacts to circumnavigate these issues and keep the project on track.
- MCP’s SMEs leveraged their knowledge of LMR backhaul to help DEC implement an extremely robust system that uses both microwave and fiber-optic technology.
- One of the new tower sites was in an historic battlefield, which created some challenges regarding preservation. MCP’s SMES used a unique approach that utilized test balloons, and then worked with historical society and county executives to ensure that the new tower site not only would provide the desired coverage but also would resolve any preservation concerns.
- MCP’s paging experts worked with the DEC to implement a new paging capability that is more capable and cost-effective than the legacy overlay system.
The county deployed a state-of-the-art, P25 Phase 2-compliant, digital trunked radio system that also operates in the UHF band. The new system features five tower sites and six channels, in addition to a new microwave/fiber backhaul system.
The new system provides the following capabilities compared with the legacy system:
- Dramatically improved quality of voice communications due to the transition to digital technology.
- Significantly improved coverage and capacity, largely due to the increased number of tower sites and channels, but also to the trunked configuration, which increases the number of available talkpaths.
- Significantly enhanced reliability and redundancy.
- Enhanced interoperability with surrounding local jurisdictions, as well as state and federal agencies.
- A countywide tone-and-voice paging capability that previously did not exist, and which was more cost-effective than the legacy overlay system.
- An extremely robust backhaul system that utilizes microwave and fiber-optic technology.
The performance improvements exhibited by the new P25 digital LMR system were “immediate and eye-opening,” according to according to Gary Yew, communications project manager.
Mellanie Shipe, director of the DEC’s emergency communications center added that mutual-aid departments in the area have praised the improved performance of the new P25 system compared with the legacy system — and in some cases, even their own LMR systems.
“We have been amazed by the crystal-clear communication and flawless transmission of our radios, even in the deep woods,” Shipe said. “Shenandoah County is proud of the hard work that went into this project."