Local News

N.C. Officials: Statewide Radio System Needed For First Responders

Posted March 16, 2006 6:58 a.m. EST

— How prepared is North Carolina for a natural disaster or terrorism? State officials say it comes down to communication and response.

Hurricane season has always put the state's emergency readiness to the test, but one problem over the years is the flow of information between some of the state's first responders. They cannot talk to each other because of different radio systems.

"The ability for first responders to talk to each other in emergencies is always identified as the No. 1 need after every disaster or disaster exercise," said Bryan Beatty, of the state Crime Control and Public Safety Department.

The need for a statewide radio system was one of the findings in a recent seminar that put the state's Homeland Security plans to the test. Federal officials met with Gov. Mike Easley to discuss the state's readiness for disasters.

"They put up one possible scenario and you respond to that, then they change it and you have to change rapidly, making sure communication is in place," said Gov. Mike Easley.

Easley said there is improvement in monitoring the state's farms, its food supply and public health to guard against an attack, but he said it all comes down to response time.

"How quickly can you access information? How quickly can you bring the team together? How quickly can you get that information out to local areas," he said.

Easley said while disaster drills help, the state's homeland security plans remain a work in progress.

"Like any other team, we have to practice, practice, practice, so we're ready for any situation if there's a game day," he said.

Easley is still trying to fund the statewide radio system called VIPER, which costs about $190 million. The technology is available in some parts of the state, including Wake and Johnston Counties, but state leaders believe it should be available across North Carolina.