Local News

Statewide Radio System a Work in Progress

Posted September 6, 2007 5:54 p.m. EDT
Updated September 6, 2007 7:10 p.m. EDT

— 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 Leaders said they worry that if it takes too many years to implement, the technology could be outdated by the time it’s finished.