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Old 11-05-2013, 5:30 AM
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Default Newspaper article on Buncombe's system

ASHEVILLE — A powerful new emergency radio system in operation in Buncombe will enhance public safety communications in difficult mountain terrain, officials say.

The state-of-the-art, digital system was launched last month after two years of planning and installing equipment, including 12 new transmission towers, county emergency services director Jerry VeHaun said.

County emergency personnel, including sheriff’s deputies, emergency medical personnel and firefighters, use the system in responding to fires, accidents, law enforcement matters and other emergencies.

The 700-megahertz system replaces an aging VHF system and will increase coverage of Buncombe’s 650 square miles of hilly terrain to up to 95 percent, VeHaun said. With the old system, radio transmissions only were possible in about 75 percent of the county.

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” VeHaun said. “With the old system, if you got down in the Broad River or in Sandy Mush, it was about impossible to talk to anybody. There were dead spots. And by being digital, it’s crystal clear. There is no static.”

Officials are still in the process of converting some emergency responders, including county fire departments, to the new system, he said.

The system cost $10.2 million, but the county spent about $6 million on it. The company providing the equipment, California-based Cassidian Communications, provided “backbone equipment,” including equipment at the county communications center on Erwin Hills Road, worth about $4 million, VeHaun said.

Company leaders shared some of the cost because they wanted a premier system in mountain terrain to showcase their products, he said.

“They wanted a place in rough terrain where they could bring people in to see how well it would work,” VeHaun said.

At an unveiling of the system last week, representatives from a number of nearby counties attended to see how it works, he said, including contingents from Henderson, Haywood and Greenville, S.C.

The county will maintain its old VHF network as a backup system, VeHaun said.

Sheriff Van Duncan said the new system “will evolve with us as our needs change, keeping the county safely on the front edge of mission-critical communications.”

The City of Asheville operates a separate emergency radio system of its own.
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