$1.5M grant to pay for emergency communications upgrade

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — At their meeting last week, Carroll supervisors heard a clear signal that emergency communications will be improved with help from a $1.6 million regional grant.

County officials had noted during budget discussions earlier this year that they were receiving good signals from the granting agency about funding to improve radio equipment in Carroll, Grayson and Galax, as well as Pulaski County.

And Carroll County Administrator Gary Larrowe confirmed at the Monday meeting that the official award letter had indeed come in.

Notification of the long-expected grant in the amount of $1,577,479 finally arrived from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. The grant is funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

This money will pay for installation of a digital microwave system and equipment upgrades, according to the award letter.

County officials have said that 39 law enforcement, fire, rescue and other agencies in the region would see a benefit from the Public Safety Interoperable Communications Grant.

Carroll officials had expected that the county would receive $800,000, Grayson $600,000 and Galax $100,000 to improve communications. When the grant came through, the amount for Carroll totaled $850,000, Larrowe noted.

(Pulaski County will receive $65,000 from this grant, plus an additional award of $12,479 at a later time, county officials said.)

This grant will help address trouble spots — caused by the mountains — with bad reception and improve communications between agencies in and out of the Twin Counties.

"This will help the sheriff's department to give them better communications throughout the county," said Carroll's emergency services coordinator, Joe Roma.

He expected the upgrades to really help the Grayson Sheriff's Office, as it has to get signals out in the most mountainous county in the state.

“There’s more mountains there than here,” he said of Carroll. “I think it’s really going to benefit them a lot.”

To develop the grant application, Carroll’s grant writer, Brenda Marrah, worked with officials from across the Twin Counties like Roma, Carroll Sheriff Warren Manning, Grayson Sheriff Richard Vaughan and Galax Police Chief Rick Clark, as well as representatives of fire and rescue departments and the towns.

“With our current radio system, we’ve got several dead spots in the county,” Sheriff Vaughan said.

But that should be solved thanks to the forethought of Marrah in including Grayson County and Galax in the grant application, Vaughan noted. The regional cooperation improved the chances of getting the grant, which apparently worked.

This will not only improve communications for police, fire and rescue in Grayson, but will also make Grayson’s radio systems interoperable with Galax and Carroll’s, Vaughan noted.

There’s also a federal deadline looming in the near future for emergency agencies to move to digital communications systems, and this will take care of that requirement. The requirement stems from the need to be prepared to respond in the event of a widespread emergency.

Carroll Sheriff Warren Manning noted that communications in his county is similar to Grayson’s. “We’ve never had it too good because of the mountain situation,” he noted.

It’s hard getting signals out of places like Cana, Lambsburg and Wards Gap sections of the county.

“All of this hi-tech stuff, it’ll have to be proven first,” Manning said of whether the new equipment will solve all those difficulties. “I hope it will. They say it will, so I’m hoping for the best.”

Getting grant money means that strapped Carroll County will not have to pay out of its own pockets, Manning noted. That’s also a good thing.

The grant will pay for infrastructure for the microwave system and mobile radios, Carroll officials have said. The radios will allow communications with both analog and digital systems.

Law enforcement agencies will take priority on getting new radios, but this grant will also upgrade fire and rescue equipment.