Communications fix requested

Published 6:11 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Beaufort County commissioners have taken a second step in fixing the county’s communications problems.

During February’s regular meeting, the Board of Commissioners approved a request by communications consultants Lookout Communications to put out a Request for Proposal for multiple site simulcast system in the county. The system would be required to provide 95 percent coverage reliability for portable radios, mobile phones and pagers used by EMS and fire departments.

The approval came after the consultants’ report revealed that emergency communications reliability spanned a range of 60 percent to 97 percent. Seventy-three sites were tested across Beaufort County.

“The coverage test results indicates unacceptable conditions exist with several of the systems being used by the emergency responders of Beaufort County,” the report reads.

Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office portable radios on the VIPER system and fire department mobiles had the greatest reliability at 97 percent; portable fire department radios were found to 70 percent functional; fire/EMS paging, 60 percent; sheriff’s office portable VHF radios, 70 percent; sheriff’s office mobiles, 94 percent; and Emergency Management communications, 74 percent. Several Beaufort County public and private schools were also checked during the radio coverage test, with most proving to have inadequate coverage inside the buildings.

Part of the issue is that all county emergency radio systems have been operating from a single signal repeater at White Post, near Bath, which Lookout Communications reported that a “catastrophic failure of this site means that all systems are off the air immediately for an indefinite period of time.”

The recommended solution is to put up multiple signal repeaters mounted on state tower sites and county infrastructure, such as water towers, if necessary.

County Manager Brian Alligood said the RFP will bring the county closer to understanding how much the improvements will cost.

“The RFP is just an RFP. It doesn’t commit us to anything; it just gives us the numbers we need to know,” Alligood said.

Commissioners voted 7-0 in favor of moving forward with the process.