HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - All emergency response agencies in Horry County are now on a digital radio system, replacing the analog system that had been used since 1989.
"This is just a better system. It was a system that has been needed for years," Horry County spokesperson Lisa Bourcier said. "We're just at this point now that we're able to do the switchover."
The switchover from an analog to a digital radio system has been three years in the making in Horry County. These changes aren't to the 911 operations system, but instead to what happens after someone calls for help.
"It's basically the dispatchers from 911 dispatching public safety personnel and apparatus to the scene and communicating while they're actually on the scene," Bourcier said.
Horry County spent $16 million dollars of excess RIDE II funds on this new radio communications system, she said.
RIDE II generated more money than originally projected, so the road projects are still covered while the county gets to use the extra funds for improving public safety.
"Since this is a project that basically affects everyone countywide and all the municipalities use this system, it was the best source of revenue to fund that," Bourcier said.
The switchover to the digital system was set for April 18 and April19, but the county launched it early because a transmitter for the analog system went down overnight Sunday, Bourcier said.
"We were left with do we repair this with only two weeks or do we go ahead?" she said. "Are we able to switch over to the digital system? And we are. We've been working towards it. We were prepared."
Bourcier said there have been some small glitches, but those are always expected with this kind of change. Horry County agencies switched over Monday. All of the municipalities in Horry County plus emergency management and Coastal Carolina University are now on the digital system as well.
She said there are 3,000 radios in Horry County, 1,600 of which are in the county's jurisdiction alone.
The existing radios were reprogrammed to work with the digital system.
"This new system will give us better coverage throughout the county," Bourcier said. "We've probably with the analog system had about 60 percent coverage in the county. Now we're up to 95 percent."
Bourcier said radio coverage was sometimes spotty in rural areas. In Myrtle Beach, hotels sometimes cause lapses in radio communications.
"Whenever we use our portable radios that we carry on our duty belts and go into things such as the high-rise motels or some areas along the city, sometimes the coverage can be spotty," Myrtle Beach Police Lt. Joey Crosby said. "With this new radio system, we're hoping to alleviate that from occurring, so it increases the communication between the officers and dispatch and we can relay that vital information back to them."
Crosby said the handheld radios are used to get information on scene.
"If we're running an information check, so if we're trying to find a person's identity through NCIC or through a driver's license check or it could be dispatch has additional information they need to give us pertaining to the call or it could be a number of things that we're trying to communicate back and forth with the dispatchers," he said.
The new digital system will be able to reroute itself if a transmitter goes down, according to Bourcier.
"With this system comes even better resiliency," she said.
The digital radio system also allows outside agencies to communicate within it, so this will be useful for the Memorial Day Bikefest coming up next month, as well as major emergencies and severe weather.