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  • John Clayton, Laurens County Advertiser

E-911 radios needed for responders, safety

By John Clayton | October 14, 2020 |

(This story is part of a series of articles breaking down each of the projects to be voted on by referendum during the Nov. 3 General Election. If approved, a 1-cent Capital Project Sales Tax (CPST) would fund nearly $35 million in capital projects in Laurens County over the next eight years.) Emergency services leaders in Laurens County say communication among first responders is vital when lives and property are at stake, and that it’s lacking as the county’s radio system has grown out of date. The county’s appointed Capital Project Sales Tax Commission approved a $2,481,496 project that would allow the purchase of up-to-date E-911 radios among the 16 projects that will be presented to voters via referendum during the Nov. 3 General Election. The new and upgraded radios would bring all first responders up to the Palmetto 800mhz standard. “It brings Laurens County Rural Fire Service in the mix with everyone else, so that everybody can talk to everybody else,” said county Emergency Services Director Joey Avery. Avery said those fire-service responders in rural areas would be the last pieces of the puzzle for countywide communications. The Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, EMS and municipal units already use the 800mhz radios County EMS Director Matt Pennington, whose agency has been using the Palmetto 800 system for several years, said the move in imperative for the safety of first-responders and local residents. “This improves crew and employee safety and the ability of our crews to get back to dispatch and communicate any means or resources that they need,” Pennington said. “It will improve our citizens’ safety, too. If we have crew way down in Cross Hill who needs assistance, with the older radio system, they’re not going to be able to get the help they need.” The new or upgraded radios purchased would go to a variety of units and first responders, paid and volunteer, throughout the county. Handheld radios and mobile units for vehicles are included in the proposal. Volunteers who don’t receive radios will receive pagers that will be on the system so that they can respond to calls. Everyone on the system will have the ability to respond directly to calls from the county’s 911 system. With time always critical during emergency responses, the ability to respond more quickly is a selling point for the Palmetto 800 system, but so is the ability to communicate among departments within the county and with those from neighboring counties such as Greenwood, Newberry and the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), which often assist local agencies during emergency situations. “These new radios would give us the interoperability with other agencies,” said County Fire Services Director Greg Lindley. “Basically, we’ll be able to talk to other agencies that right now we can’t talk to.” In addition to the older radios becoming harder to repair and replace due to outdated technology, recent FCC mandates narrowing VHF frequencies cut the range of the older radios by as much as 40%, meaning some rural areas can lose communication capabilities altogether. “The FCC mandate hurt services,” Avery said. “And we expect another mandate soon.”

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