Beaufort County first responders receive $893,000 grant for VIPER radios

BEAUFORT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) – First responders here in the east received a grant of more than $800,000 with the goal of improving its public safety communications system.

The North Carolina Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders, or VIPER for short, is North Carolina’s statewide mission-critical radio system.

Agencies use the VIPER system on various levels to provide voice communications for public safety. Beaufort County has now received an $893,000 grant to secure this system.

“Switching over to VIPER will help us communicate with the EMS agencies, the local law enforcement, and state agencies when they come in to assist with major disasters or anything of that nature,” Chocowinity Fire Department Chief Tommy Pendley said.

The county will use the funds to purchase more than 100 portable VIPER radios which will be distributed among 17 emergency response agencies throughout the county.

Although some agencies already have the VIPER system, they say it is outdated, but buying a new one could range from $7,500 to $10,000.

“Small departments and small communities, I mean it’s impossible to afford anything like that,” Pendley said.

With the help of Senator Tom Tillis, the county was able to secure the funding. Tillis said it’s crucial to have VIPER as a part of communications.

“Particularly out here in a storm-prone area when you’re talking about emergency or disaster response,” Tillis said. “Making sure that everyone knows what the left hand or the right hand is doing. Pretty important.”

This grant, is a huge step in the right direction, especially for the rural agencies.

“For many of them, purchasing new radios might mean you have to reduce funding somewhere else, or you might have to make a decision,” Beaufort County Communications Director Brandon Tester said. “Either we get this, or we get new radios, and this kind of takes the burden off of them.”

As for the next steps, a project ordinance will be presented to the Board of Commissioners for approval. Once approved, Tester said they can begin the buying process, which they anticipate will take about a year.