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Photos from 1966, 1971, 2010

History of emergency communications in the city of Richmond

The following history was compiled and shared by Bonnie Hoskin, who retired from the city of Richmond with 30 years of service in 2002.

Please click on each section below to read about the history from 1742 to the present. For the most recent information from the Richmond Department of Emergency Communications, please read the news releases on the online newsroom page.

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.

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.

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

Officer uses a walkie-talkie in 1966
In 1966, walking patrol officers, including Robert Armstrong, pictured here, began using walkie-talkie radios to communicate with dispatchers. Photo by Richmond Newspapers

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.

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.

Electronic status system in use in 1971
An electronic status board in use in 1971 shows available police and fire units.  Photo by Richmond Newspapers

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.

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.

Staff shows telephone line in 1990
In 1990, E.C. Harris displays the newly installed unrecorded telephone line to receive anonymous tips on illegal drug activities, Photo by Richmond Newspapers

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.

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.

2018

On June 4, text-to-911 services officially begin in Richmond and the surrounding capital region with a news conference announcement.

2019

The Department of Emergency Communications earned its first national Public Safety Communications Accreditation on May 4, 2019,  from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc. (CALEA). Less than 2 percent of emergency communications centers in the country earn accreditation.

The Training Center, a new 4,300-square-foot addition to the existing Emergency Communications Center building, officially was opened with a Ribbon-Cutting and Open House on May 30.