RALEIGH, N.C. — In a disaster, effective communication can mean the difference between life and death. For example, when Hurricane Floyd slammed into North Carolina in 1999, law enforcement agencies and first responders had separate radio systems. So, talking to each other was as challenging as surviving the storm.
Now, as hurricane season starts next week, the lines of communication have become an especially big concern at the state level. And the state has a plan: The state wants to replace outdated radio systems statewide with the Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders, an 800 MegaHertz digital communication system better known as VIPER.
"What the VIPER will do is put all these systems into one network, an 800 MegaHertz system so we can all talk when lives are at risk," said Brian Beatty of the N.C. Crime Control and Public Safety.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol is already building and identifying towers around the state for the VIPER system. The plan is to phase the system into communities across the state over the next four to five years.
No one publicly disputes the value of a statewide radio system, but there is a debate of who should pay for the system and how.
The estimated cost of the transmitters and equipment is $188 million, and that doesn't include the radios.
The state has already tapped $55 million into the plan from homeland security funds.
Governor Mike Easley also has asked the General Assembly to kick in more than $60 million over the next two years.
But even with a handful of other grants, the state is still more than $50 million short.
Additionally, the VIPER system works only with Motorola equipment.
"If [emergency responders and law enforcement agencies] can't use it, it's not any good for them," said James Barbour, the 911 director for Johnston County.
Barbour said the VIPER system looks good on paper, but it could be tough for smaller communities to get connected.
"You're in the neighborhood of $2,000 to $4,000 per radio for the digital system," Barbour said. "They're not cheap."