New technology that will allow county volunteer firefighters to receive text message notification over their radios was authorized last week by the Board of Supervisors.

A low bid of $7,970 from ComSouth Inc. was accepted by supervisors for the new text message notification system for volunteer firemen. A second bid of $10,225 was received from Integrated Communications Inc.

County Administrator Benjie Coats said the new equipment was part of an ongoing effort to improve technology for first responders including the recent switch to narrowband communications.

The overall project also includes infrastructure to go to digital transmission and also to provide encryption for law enforcement so that signals can't easily be understood by unauthorized people.

Emergency Management Director Jeff Mayo said the new text message notification system would allow county telecommunicators to send a simple short message to firemen's radios, alerting them of a fire, accident or other emergency at a particular address.

"The notification will be a text message radio alert similar to the two-tone alerting that we use right now," Mayo said. "At night, firemen can keep their radios on an alert-only notification for their calls instead of on an open channel for all traffic from different departments."

Emergency responders in the county began utilizing narrowband radios on Jan. 1 after the Board of Supervisors approved the upgrades with a $76,466 price tag.

The Philadelphia police and fire departments switched over to narrowband at a cost of $56,000 and $54,000 respectively, earlier last year.

The switch to narrowband stems from a Federal Communication Commission (FCC) order in December 2004 that requires all licensees operating on wideband to change over to narrowband by Jan. 1, 2013.

Narrowband communication systems are different from wideband because they use a smaller frequency range (bandwidth).

The narrowband compliance upgrade project affected six county departments: volunteer fire, road, EMS, sheriff, 911 center and emergency management.

The overall project included new repeaters and both stationary and portable radios among other technology.

The change means that traditional scanners will no longer be able to pick up the signals from the first responders.