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Whiteville first in state to switch to new radios

By Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter

Communications will soon be easier for all first responders in the city of Whiteville.

The city’s director of emergency service, Hal Lowder Jr., said Whiteville is in the process of switching over to the FirstNet communications system. An outgrowth of “push-to-talk” telephone systems that never achieved popularity, FirstNet uses  dramatically upgraded technology to allow police, fire and all emergency services more reliable communications in day-to-day responses as well as major emergencies.

“When Hurricane Matthew hammered our state,” Lowder said, “our communications were rendered completely ineffective.”

Dispatching units for all county agencies became complicated during the storm’s aftermath, as radio systems were overwhelmed and some parts of the network out of service. 

“In that situation, FirstNet’s communications platform and push-to-talk capabilities could’ve been a huge help. We never hope for emergencies, but they still happen. And next time we’ll be ready in ways we haven’t always been in the past,” Lowder added.

FirstNet is the only system built for the purpose of serving first responders, Lowder explained. It is designed and supported by AT&T.
While the FirstNet network will initially be in Whiteville, Lowder said, it will eventually be available statewide. The cellular crossover technology allows communications statewide as well as locally, similar to how the VIPER radio network was supposed to function. The VIPER system, introduced during the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, is in use by many departments across the country but has been plagued with reliability and coverage problems.

Unlike VIPER, Lowder said, FirstNet allows the city to quickly access more service when needed.

During Matthew, Lowder said, officials used a combination of radio communications and cellular telephones to communicate with other agencies while trying to coordinate assistance. FirstNet will streamline that process.
“When a major event occurs, it’s important to share data with other responders,” he said. “As more agencies join FirstNet, it will drive a greater level of interoperability. This will help us communicate with ease across agencies, jurisdictions and even state lines.”

FirstNet will work with the city to design and install the new system, Lowder said.

Stuart Rogers