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History of Emergency Communications in Richmond, Virginia

Information and photos provided by Bonnie Hoskin, who retired from the city of Richmond with 30 years of service in 2002.

1971 units
An electronic status in use in 1971 shows available police and fire units.

Photo by Richmond Newspapers

City of Richmond, fire and police bureaus established, 1741-1893

1742   Richmond is incorporated as a town by an act of the Virginia Assembly. The only means of “emergency communications” was a bell located at the Market House at 17th and Main streets that was rung when a fire was discovered.

1870   The city’s first electric “Fire Alarm and Police Telegraph System” was installed.

1871   The Department of Fire Alarm and Police Telegraph was created.

1893   Fire Alarm and Police Telegraph moved into the new city hall at 10th and Broad streets. A Police Patrol System was established at Second Police Station under the care of the Fire Alarm Department.

Department of Public Safety incorporates police, fire, alarms and telegraph bureaus, 1906-1924

1906   The Police Patrol System was moved to City Hall.

1919   A charter amendment established the Department of Public Safety to include the Police and Fire departments, the Bureau of Fire and Alarm and Police Telegraph, Building Inspections and Weights and Measures.

1924   Bureau of Fire Alarm and Police Telegraph moved into its new quarters at Monroe Park.

Radio communications installed, expanded, 1934-1966

1934   The police broadcasting system was installed at Second Station at Smith and Marshalls streets with one patrolman and two civilian radio operators

1937   The police radio station, WPHF, was moved from Second Station to Police Headquarters at City Hall Annex, 11th and Broad streets.

1939   Two-way radio equipment was installed in all of the police cars.

1940   Mobile radios, tuned to the police band frequency, were installed in the Fire Bureau cars.

1945   The first two-way radio was installed in the fire pumper at Engine Co. 19.

1949-50   The radio system moved from low band (30-40 Mc) to high band (150-160 Mc) frequencies. The Division of Communications and Records was established.

1954   Pneumatic tubes were installed at police headquarters to send messages more quickly from the complaint desk to the radio dispatcher

1955-56   A three-way radio system was installed in the police bureau, which allowed officers in police cars to talk by radio to other police cars

1957-58   The Fire Alarm and Police Telegraph was placed under the Bureau of Fire.

1958   A radio tower erected in Monroe Park enabled the Fire Bureau to have its own radio system.

1959   The Communications and Records Section was renamed the Services Division.

1964   The Police Bureau moved into the new Safety-Health-Welfare Building at 501 N. 9th Street.

1966   Walking patrol officers began using walkie-talkie radios to communicate with dispatchers.

Telephone system, Emergency Communications, 911 established,   1971-1977

1971   Emergency Reporting Telephone System (ERTS), a citywide network of free sidewalk telephones that gave citizens a direct line to police, fire or other emergency services, was installed.

1971   In September, the Bureau of Emergency Communications began operations in the basement of the Safety-Health-Welfare Building and was staffed by civilian dispatchers. Messages received by the operators were sent on cards via conveyer belt to the affected radio.

1977   In January the Bureau of Police began converting to the 460 MHz ultra-high frequency (UHF) band.

1977   In December, the city of Richmond and Henrico County became the first in the state to adopt the 9-1-1 emergency number.

Computer dispatch systems activated for police, fire and medical emergencies, 1982-1984

1982   The Police Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) system became fully operational. Complaints were typed into a computer, assigned a priority, the address verified, and the information immediately transmitted to the radio dispatcher.

1982   The ERTS boxes were removed, and for the first time since 1870, Richmond had no call boxes.

1983   The Fire Computer Assisted Dispatch System was activated.

1984   An Emergency Medical Dispatch System was implemented. Certified bureau personnel gave pre-arrival self-help medical instructions.

1986   The basic 9-1-1- system was replaced with the enhanced system.

Emergency Communications accredited, transferred among various departments, 1990-2001

1990   The Bureau of Emergency Communications became accredited by the Department of Criminal Justice Services Training Academy.

1992   The Department of Emergency Communications was established.

1997   Emergency Communications was placed under the Department of Business Services.

1998   The Department of Business Services was abolished and all of its organizational units were incorporated into the Department of Public Works.

1999   The first Dispatcher’s Academy graduated 12 communications officers after six weeks of training.

2001   Emergency Communications was transferred to the Police Department. A 20-channel digital 800 MHz radio communications system was completed, along with a new communications center located at 3516 N. Hopkins Road.

Emergency Communications becomes uniformed, independent department, 2001-2017

2001   For the first time since the creation of the civilian agency in 1971, the division became uniformed.

2006   A new, Microsoft Windows-based 9-1-1 system replaced the 25-year-old one in use.

2012   A digital, personal-computer phone system was installed to automatically distribute incoming calls to the call-takers.

2014   Emergency Communications, once again, became an independent department within the city of Richmond.

2017   The Department of Emergency Communications began accepting text messages for 911 emergencies in December, but it was not announced until June 2018 to allow time for the surrounding counties to establish the service.

harris holding telephone In 1966, walking patrol offficers, including Robert Armstrong, pictured here, began using walkie-talkie radios to communicate with dispatchers. Photo by Richmond Newspapers
harris holding telephoneIn 1990, E.C. Harris displays the newly installed unrecorded telephone line to receive anonymous tips on illegal drug activities, Photo by Richmond Newspapers

Contact Information:

Department of Emergency Communications
City of Richmond
Emergency: 911
Non-Emergency or to file a Police Report: (804) 646-5100
News media contact:
Karen L. Gill
804-646-8234 (office)
804-938-0776 (mobile)

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