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Statewide Radio System a Work in Progress

Posted September 6, 2007

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— Whether it's a hurricane or a chemical fire, how well emergency responders communicate with each other can be very important.

State leaders said the process is slowly getting better, but implementing a statewide radio system takes more than talk.

The VIPER radio system would get emergency responders on the same radio system. But it has been a work in progress for North Carolina.

“Before VIPER, we couldn’t do that,” said Lt. Everett Clendenin with the North Carolina Highway Patrol. “There was no communication between allied agencies or rescue departments.”

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety Bryan Beatty pushed for the statewide VIPER radio system.

“We're much better now then we were three or four years ago,” he said. “We're pleased with the progress. It’s not as fast as we would have liked it to have taken place.”

The main battle is money. State lawmakers denied an$11 million request this year for VIPER transmitters and tower construction.

“We were disappointed,” Beatty said.

At the same time, though, the state received an unexpected federal grant to cover costs. About 60 percent of VIPER's infrastructure has been funded - most in the state's hurricane prone areas. As you travel west, coverage has been sparse.

Plus, with a lack of radios just 35 percent of the statewide system was complete. One bright spot was Wake County. During last year's EQ chemical fire in Apex, all responding agencies could communicate.

“Troopers are wondering how we did it without,” Clendenin said.

Much of the state was still without, but on the whole leaders said they're better prepared for the next disaster.

Thirty-nine out of 100 counties were represented in the VIPER radio system as of Thursday. Leaders said they worry that if it takes too many years to implement, the technology could be outdated by the time it’s finished.


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  • leo-nc Sep 7, 2007

    You do understand that VIPER isn't built out in Western NC? If you understand that, then you can also understand why you may not have that good a range on your radios. This is known though, so I'm sure it's no surprise to you. As for the fire departments etc, you can easily switch to a simplex channel when you're on the fireground. No, I didn't purchase the radio myself, and all troopers get them who's county is covered by the system. I'm not saying there aren't problems. I'm sure there are. Where I work, we haven't seen any of those issues and when you're in the middle of nowhere at night having stopped a violator who wants to get violent, believe me, you want that thing on your side. Given your background, you have never driven a black and silver so you really have no idea what i'm talking about here. I think we're debating apples and oranges. I'll leave it at that. Once you sit in a patrol car, and see the differences, then let me know what you think.

  • TechRescue Sep 7, 2007

    Good Luck - Talk to folks that HAVE used VIPER in Western NC - ask them about the range and reliability. It's nice that you have a handheld - buy it yourself? Most of the departments in my county, every officer had a handheld radio with the VHF system. When VIPER came in , departments got 4. It could save your life, provided you had one of the precious $3000 units when you needed it.

    And BTW, I have used VIPER. I also teach in departments around the State, and get to listen to them talk about the complexity, the cost, and the limited additional benefit of the system. Captains in career FDs have told me of being unable to talk to the engineer 100' away. The VHF system, which used peer-to-peer communications, worked.

    Last but not least, talk to the guys in FDNY about their lives depending on 800mHz. Read the 9/11 report about the missed EVAC commands and the recommendation that every significant building have repeaters installed so the radio signals can penetrate.

  • leo-nc Sep 7, 2007

    I guess I typed too much. I meant to say "in a fight for my life."

  • leo-nc Sep 7, 2007

    All I can say is that I've used both systems and if it comes to where my life is on the line, I would choose VIPER any day since with the lowband system we didn't even have portables. Your comments sound like they are coming from someone who has no experience using the system. I do have that experience and I can tell you that when I'm out in the middle of nowhere and I need help, I finally have something on my side that will get me that help. The state isn't lining their pockets with this system. They are building something that works. I know, because it works for me. The money that is given to the state for this system is going into the system, and in no one's pocket. Unit to unit range in feet? yeah, right. I have talked simplex to another handheld over a distance of miles, so your statement is unfounded.

    Anyways, no matter what I say, it's not going to change your mind so believe what you want. I'm just glad that I finally have a way to reach someone if I'm in a fight for

  • White Eagle Sep 7, 2007

    Hey, I know how to get the system funded....let's raise taxes (indefinitely) or maybe we could use the money that would go to give tax credits to some company. If a disaster strikes, and it will, maybe the politicians will do something other then lining their pockets and those of their cronies.

  • TechRescue Sep 7, 2007

    Dead spots? Ok, let's fix them by erecting a system that works like cell phones do - erect hundreds of towers, link them all together, and design the system so the radios won't work without them (unit to unit range can be measured in feet). Then let's toss in a hurricane - guess what happens to all those towers and the accompanying infrastructure?

    Let's not talk about the unsuitability of 800mHz for emergency communications (short wavelength = no distance) or the fact that a handheld radio now costs several thousand instead of several hundred dollars.

    They say a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee, and the Interoperability plan is a good example. The only people that will really benefit from it are the radio manufacturers, along with the lobbyists and politicians who feed off them.

  • leo-nc Sep 6, 2007

    True, but the low band system in place now for HP for instance has been around since the 70's. ANYTHING is better than that system. Lots of dead spots etc.

  • anonemoose Sep 6, 2007

    Viper is a great system, but by the time some of the backwoods parts of the state decides to get the technology, it will be obsolete.