Horry County looks at options to replace radio system

Horry County looks at options to replace radio system
Richard Gerrald, HCFR Division Chief
Richard Gerrald, HCFR Division Chief

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Horry County Emergency System is preparing to replace their current radio system.
The plan is to hopefully have a new system in place by the end of 2016 that will help firefighters and officers in the field, and provide better emergency services and coverage to the residents in the county.

Horry County Fire Rescue Officials say they are currently working on system that is more than 15 years old and they say it is in dire need of replacement. So they are looking at several options to upgrade the radio system that could come with a hefty price tag.

Richard Gerrald, Division Chief for Horry County Fire Rescue said, "The analog system is dying in its life, the end of life for that system is December 2016."

The county has been working for the past few months on a plan to switch from analog to a digital system. Gerrald said right now, the current system does not cover the entire county.

"There are some areas in the county now that are grey areas, you do have a signal drop and particularly building coverage is spotty in areas," Gerrald explained.

But he says a new digital system would enhance coverage and give a stronger signal. "It's safety for the police officers and the firemen who are out there in the buildings providing the service, you can't respond if don't get the message," said Gerrald.

Administration officials with Horry County Police and Fire Rescue have been working with a consulting firm, researching the options that would be available to the county to upgrade the system.

Gerrald said, the county could use a state subscriber-based digital system. The county would pay to subscribe to the Palmetto 800 system.

"It works just like cell phone usage you pay a monthly fee per radio you have on the system, but that system has some faults, it doesn't have the coverage that we need, " explained Gerrald.  Just within the county, law enforcement and fire use between 3,000 to 3,500 radios.

The other option includes use a core system that would be shared with the state, but Gerrald says the core is the brains of the entire system, and it would not allow the county much access to manage the system for repairs and upgrades, but it would save money.

Gerrald stated, "We would not have full control of management it would be between Horry County and the state."

Gerrald says building a new infrastructure to meet their needs would be the most efficient plan, it would give the county more control over the entire system, while saving the county money. He said it would be similarly to what's in place now, and it would be owned and operated by the county.

Gerrald says the county already owns two radio signal towers, but they would need additional towers to have the complete coverage needed for the county. He adds either option chose would require the need for additional towers.

So what's the price tag? Gerrald says it would be a multi-million dollar system. Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes, addressed the Public Safety Committee on Monday, saying the new system would cost between 10 to $15 million dollars.

The county is now looking at ways to start paying for the system, and they want it to be implemented before the old system fades out at the end of 2016.

Gerrald says in the process it would take testing and training to ensure the system works properly before it could be fully operational.

Emergency text message would be one of the benefits of having a digital system, according to Gerrald. He said that is currently not available under the analog system.  "We need coverage we need capabilities to communicate where ever we're at in the county," said Gerrald.

Copyright 2015 WMBF News. All rights reserved.