HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Horry County signed a contract deal with Motorola for the new digital upgrade to the county-wide public safety radio system. The goal is to have the software all upgraded by the end of the year.
The analog radio system has been in place since 1989. County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said the system has been upgraded a few times, but the analog signal will be obsolete by the end of the year, so Bourcier said they needed to make the switch to the powerful and reliable digital signal.
In December 2015, county council approved to allocate excess funds from RIDE II to pay for this upgrade. It will cover every single radio in Horry County, and that includes radios in every municipality and at Coastal Carolina University.
The first phase of the project will include updating all the software. That should be done by the end of the year. Then crews will have to upgrade every single radio individually for the second phase.
"We'll have to make sure that all the handheld radios are programmed to that system," explained Bourcier. "And we have over 1,600 radios to program. So that will be the next step."
The county is not sure how long it will take to program every radio. But when it is all complete, 95 percent of the county will have reliable radio coverage. Right now, about 60 percent of the county is covered.
"When you're with the old analog system that we've been using, we've had a lot of dead spots in a lot of the county," said Bourcier. "And even sometimes in the high-rise buildings you lose communication. And that's number one. So not only is it the safety of all your first responders, but it's the safety of the citizens and the visitors."
This upgrade will exceed industry standards. It is a part of the Project 25 standard, which was adopted by the FCC to make sure every single radio is interoperable. That means you do not have different signals depending on what state, county, city, or department you're with.
Two years ago, when the process to upgrade started, the estimated price for the new system was $15.4 million. But the county was able to negotiate that down to right around $8.3 million with Motorola.
Bourcier said leaders knew this initial cost of upgrading the system would not be the end of it. There is a maintenance cost that needs to be budgeted, too. Originally, the county was going to have to pay over $11 million over the course of 10 years for maintenance and upgrades. After negotiations, they pre-negotiated 10 years of maintenance and upgrades at a fixed $2.8 million total. The county is saving around $15.5 million with this contract.