04/06/11 — County switches on new communications system

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County switches on new communications system

By Gary Popp
Published in News on April 6, 2011 1:46 PM

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Danny Tillman, a Wayne County emergency dispatcher, tests the new emergency services paging system that went online Monday morning. Emergency Services was the first to make use of the new, $10 million communications system. Since then, fire and law enforcement have also logged onto the system. Shane Kilpatrick, left, of Communications International, the company that installed the system, looks on.

Wayne County emergency officials say they are nearly 95 percent through the process of converting the emergency communication system from analog to digital.

Wayne County Fire Marshal Bryan Taylor said the only agencies left to make the switch are the Goldsboro Police Department and the Wayne Memorial Hospital Police Department.

Taylor is one of several county officials overseeing the communication system's switch.

Her said he expected to have the final departments on the new system by 10 a.m. today.

Nearly 70 percent of all county agencies made the switch Tuesday.

"Yesterday went pretty good with the sheriff's department, all the municipal police departments and volunteer fire departments," Taylor said. "It went really well, a lot better than we expected."

Officials began the switch Monday by converting only a few county agencies, including Emergency Medical Services, Wayne NET, the non-emergency transport division of EMS, Animal Control Services and Solid Waste Management.

"We have not had any problems with the system working at all," Taylor said.

Even if all agencies are added today, Taylor said he and other county officials won't breathe a sigh of relief until all the bugs are removed.

"It will be a work in progress over the next week," Taylor said. "After we get all the agencies on, we will be making minor adjustments and tweaking the system to fine tune everything."

Officials have said they expect the new system to give emergency responders a stronger signal, which could help cut response time. The old system was inoperable in a number of situations, such as inside areas of large structures, including Wayne Memorial Hospital and Berkeley Mall. and had some components that were as much as 50 years old.

The switch took years and did not come without controversy.

County officials decided not to switch to the VIPER system used by many counties in the state, to the dismay of many emergency responders.

But local leaders maintained the system that is being installed suits Wayne County better, adding that VIPER would be more costly and had the possibility of putting the county at the mercy of the state during a crisis.

"We collectively did not want the state of North Carolina to control our communication destiny. They were going to control when it was up, when it was down, who was going to talk and who was not going to talk," County Manager Lee Smith said in December.

Smith said in cases of wide-scale emergencies, such as a hurricane, which could call for multiple-day emergency response, he wanted to keep the communication system in Wayne County in the hands of local officials.

"I want to know that I have a system that I can control and that my folks can talk," Smith said.

New radios have been installed in every emergency vehicle in the county, from fire trucks to police and Sheriff's Office patrol cars and ambulances.

The total cost of the switch, including the erection of five new communications towers around the county, is about $10 million.