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EMA Director offers update on County Communication Systems
COLUMN By: Mike Casey
Edgefield County EMA Director
posted April 3, 2008
After reading the guest editorial by Bob Ramsey (Edgefield County
Process For FY 08-09) I feel compelled to respond. In reference to
certain parts of his editorial I find that Mr. Ramsey has in some
instances misstated the situation. As Emergency Preparedness Director
for Edgefield County I find this inaccuracy alarming. Not only does it
misrepresent the true situation but such mishandling of facts only
serves to confuse and in some cases unnecessarily alarm the citizens of
My concern is for Mr. Ramsey's remarks regarding the present state of
our emergency communications system. Let me address those remarks as an
outtake of the total editorial and respond to them individually.
Mr. Ramsey refers to our emergency communications system as aging and
antiquated. He contends that both of our communications towers
"are on their last legs." I cannot totally agree with this assessment.
At this writing we are aggressively replacing outdated and antiquated
equipment but I believe the system concept is valid and far from being
outdated. We work off a two tower system for several good reasons; we
have redundancy if one of the sites should fail, we have better
coverage of the entire county and we increase our communications
capability with neighboring counties.
In reality only one of our two towers has had structural problems. The
problem was brought to council's attention and they immediately and
unanimously voted to fix the problem. The tower has been repaired.
Council also gave me the authority to seek specifications on a new
tower. They told me in no uncertain terms that this was a top priority.
All of this conversation was in open session of council.
Another area of concern that I presented to council was the aging
two-way fire radio. Again when I called it to council's
attention they immediately instructed me to purchase a new system. We
replaced the EMS system approximately five years ago and the Sheriff's
Office is replacing its system at present. All emergency services have
new or nearly new radio repeaters.
Mr. Ramsey states that grants are hard to come by. Yes and no. I have
four grants that specifically address tower replacement and radio
systems. All of the repairs and new radio systems already installed
were funded in total or in part by grants that were secured by my
As a matter of fact we had sufficient grant money to buy new backup
repeater radios for both tower sites should the main unit fail or be
down for service. Council has made it clear that they want a new system
and have earmarked matching funds for grants that we are securing. I
have also been given complete authority by council to upgrade the
communications buildings at both sites and secure maintenance contracts
for radio service and emergency generator service. Council's words to
me were "do what it takes to get us back up to where we should
Mr. Ramsey alludes to 800 Megahertz as the new salvation of
communications and that we should be going to that system so that we
can more readily secure grants. Let's take a look at that
First, the great majority of counties in South Carolina still use the
same system that we use; VHF and UHF conventional frequencies. This is
not an antiquated system, but like anything else it requires new
equipment from time to time. Larger counties, with big budgets, have
begun phasing in 800 trunking. This is an expensive proposition and one
that we should carefully consider. With 800 we would have to pay a
monthly subscription (usage) fee for EACH 800 radio in the county. To
properly equip the seven fire departments, EMA, EMS, and City and
County law enforcement we would conservatively have to buy at least 225
to 250 radios at a cost of $2500-$3000 each. Conventional VHF and
UHF radios run $350 to $600 each.
Each of the radios would also require a monthly subscription fee of
approximately $25.00 depending on the number of trunking towers we
would have to subscribe to for adequate coverage. You do the math. This
usage fee never goes away and would have to be budgeted every
Once the 800 system was in place we would still have to use our present
system for toning our fire departments and EMS and other daily radio
traffic. Our present system cost us a fraction of what 800 would cost.
Yes, there are grants that would help fund a portion of this cost but
they are matching grants and the county would still have to spend a
great deal of money. I feel our money is better spent at present on
upgrading towers and present radio systems.
One of the big buzz words with Homeland Security is Interoperability.
At present our system has complete interoperability with all
neighboring counties. Not so with 800.
Finally on this matter, let me share with you the fact that we already
have 800 trunking radios in our county now and have been phasing them
in for several years. County and City law enforcement, EMA and EMS all
have mobiles and base units. All provided by the 800 trunking company
thru grants so that we could begin the gradual migration to 800 in the
future. They are used on a very limited basis. My office is also
working on grant opportunities to equip our seven fire departments with
800 as backup to their present system as well as HAM Radio and 2
So, yes, there are grant sources for conventional radio systems, FEMA
would just like to see us include 800 in our plans as we update. This
we are doing as part of our long range plan.
Let me assure the citizens of Edgefield County that we are working hard
to improve our communications systems whenever possible. I will
always place communications as one of our top priorities. My office
works almost daily on grant opportunities and we have the services of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant writing team and Upper
Savannah Council of Governments whenever needed.
Let me close with a personal observation; had Mr. Ramsey contacted me
regarding this matter before writing his editorial I believe I could
have cleared up some of the misconceptions and erroneous information.
Mr. Ramsey is truly concerned about our county and I welcome his input
at any time. He is a good citizen and I list him as a friend. I trust
that nothing I have said in any way conveys any ill will or misplaced
trust toward Mr. Ramsey.
Edgefield County EMA Director
Editor's note: Mr. Casey's
column was placed in the Opinions Section to make it available where
Mr. Ramsey's editorial was placed for convenience to the reader.
original material is property of
EdgefieldDaily.com and cannot be reproduced, rewritten or redistributed
without the expressed written permission of Edgefield Daily.com
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