$324,000 is cost of upgrade of radios

Stephen Gurr/Staff
Clarke

AIKEN - If anything breaks in the outdated communications system Aiken County emergency responders rely on, there's a good chance it can't be fixed.

Emergency officials told county council members Tuesday that upgrading to a system that's compatible with the Palmetto 800 system - the same 800-megahertz system used by the sheriff's office - could cost at least $324,000.

Or, emergency services acting director Phil Clarke said, they can leave it as is, and "we can limp along like we are right now."

But, he stressed, "we don't know how long the system will last."

This isn't the first time the state of EMS' dispatch system has come up.

At a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Judicial and Public Safety Committee, county council members decided to hold off until they could discuss the matter further - at another meeting, this time with fire and sheriff's officials in attendance.

Although the sheriff's office is on the Palmetto 800 system, EMS is on the VHF radio system, and fire services is on the UHF system.

And EMS has had problems in the past with communication. In fact, a couple of years ago, lightning took the entire system off-line for a couple of weeks, Mr. Clarke said.

But the situation now is worse, he said.

County officials learned in January that the company that makes the communications system - Tait Radio Communications of North America - has discontinued the T800 series that Aiken County uses, and some of its components are no longer being made.

That means, Mr. Clarke said, that if "a transmitter goes down, and it's sent back to Tait, they may or may not have the parts."

Two cost estimates from Motorola to upgrade to the 800-megahertz system would cost $324,000 or more, he said, depending on whether the county buys radios for every emergency medical technician or just enough for each ambulance.

County Councilman Eddie Butler said he was hesitant to upgrade just yet, though.

Other issues within EMS also need to be worked out and may be more important than the communications, he said, including staffing concerns and station locations.

"Our system is working right now, although not in the way we want," he said.

Councilman Chuck Smith said he also wanted a guarantee that any new system wouldn't be obsolete shortly after its purchase.

"If we're going to be asked to spend a million dollars on something, we should be able to see what the shelf life of that product is," he said.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.