Florence County upgrades to a digital radio system

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Spotty reception is something we have all experienced while using a cell phone, but that is also a reality for the emergency radio system being used in Florence County.

On Monday, Florence County Deputies were the first of emergency personnel to be fitted with new digital radios.

"As we go through the process, we will go from the Florence County Sheriff's Office to the Florence Police Department," Andrew Golden with the Florence County Emergency Management said.

Followed by the rest of law enforcement agencies throughout the county, EMS, fire and public works will be fitted with the new gear in the upcoming months.

The upgrades replace two radios: mobile, which is located inside vehicles, and portable, those seen on the belts and shoulders of law enforcement and firefighters.

These new radios are a part of a major multi-million dollar project aimed at keeping both you and first responders safe.

You'll have better communication between officers and dispatch, so that we can make sure the help you need is getting there," said Golden.

In addition to those radios, two new emergency broadcast towers are currently under construction.

When complete, the county will have six towers relaying emergency information to the appropriate agencies.

But more than that, the new towers will help to clear up areas in the county with spotty coverage.

Dusty Owens is the director of the Florence County Emergency Management. He said, "In the Olanta area, it's going to improve it greatly. We are actually installing one of our new towers sites in the Olanta area. So, the digital system in that area is going to be much, much stronger than the current analogue system that we have there now."

The analog system puts an out spotty coverage in some areas, which means when firefighter and law enforcement are in certain places, messages can be heard but not sent when using these portable radios.

"There are a lot of things that will effect radio signal; terrain is one," Owens said.

"Construction of buildings is probably much more of a factor than terrain. Larger buildings with steel and masonry, construction blocks signals," Owens said.

Owens said for right now, when those factors make it hard for first responders to communicate, personnel are able to switch over to a direct system. This will allow two-way communication up to several miles.

Once the new digital system is up and running, a lot of those spotty zones will no longer be an issue when using portable radios.

But for now, while those portable radios are often influenced by signal strength in some areas of the county – mobile radio units are used.

"Mobile radio, which is mounted in a police cruiser are ambulance or fire truck has much more power, so there going to transmit for a longer distance than a hand held or portable radio is," Owens said.

Officials said mobile radio coverage for the county is excellent and that there has never really been an issue using it.

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