ASHE COUNTY — The Ashe County Sheriff’s Office just scored a new radio system that officials are promising will reduce communication dead zones and make it easier for ACSO officers to talk to other emergency service agencies, a critical capability in a major disaster.
That’s according to Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick, who said this week the county had received more than $30,000 from the Governor’s Crime Commission to purchase five new VIPER radios.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety chose the dual-band radio system following the lessons learned by first responders during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. For over a decade, the department has been working to upgrade first responders to Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders (VIPER) radios, a system which allows communication between police officers, fire departments, the Highway Patrol, local and state emergency management and EMS.
According to ACSO Captain Carolyn Gentry, first responders’ inability to communicate was detrimental to the rescue efforts during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The attacks are considered the deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States, killing 343 and 72 respectively.
“Out of that, although it was many years ago, came the thought of doing a dual band radio system where people could have their private radio channels but then in cases of emergency they could change over to the universal band where everybody could talk to everybody and that’s the purpose of the VIPER,” Gentry said.
Gentry said the system will also reduce the number of dead zones that hamper radio communication in certain parts of the county.
“Because of the mountainous area, we have dead spots just like with your cellphones,” Gentry said. “Where we have no communication what-so ever with our office or with each other. It’s totally dead and that’s very dangerous not only for the public but for us.”
The high-tech communications sets cost more than $5,000 per unit, Gentry said, so the grant was essential to the communications upgrade.
“Grants are important when you have a small county like ours that doesn’t have the availability of funds,” Gentry said.
Earlier this year, the Sheriffs’ Office was approved for two other grants that it used to purchase a locker system which allows deputies to turn in evidence for felony cases into the evidence room which helps prevent them from being accused of tampering with evidence.
Additional lockers were also purchased for deputies to hold minor evidence used for District Court cases.
And Gentry said the ACSO will also soon receive a new interview system thanks to a grant that was recently approved. The current system is outdated and has caused trouble in court when trying to review footage. The Sheriff’s Office has also purchased video equipment for patrol cars and body cameras in recent years thanks to grant funding.
Gentry placed the VIPER radio order on Sept. 22, and said plans are already in place for when the radios arrive. Once the sets are programmed, each sergeant on shift will be given one as well as the lieutenants who supervise each shift.
“Down through the years we have been very fortunate to apply for these grants and get them and it buys equipment that we wouldn’t otherwise have,” Gentry said. “We would be technologically poor if it hadn’t been for any of these grants.”
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.