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County Departments Improve Emergency Responder Capabilities for Nearly 50 City & County Schools

In another tale of Buncombe County collaboration, two unlikely groups teamed up to help protect children at schools countywide. When School Resource Officers (SROs) noticed public safety radio system coverage on campuses weren’t up to par, they reached out to the County’s IT department for help. IT Division Manager Vance Bell says that led to creating a survey so they could discover the depth of the potential problem. “The County Radio Steering Committee (comprised of staff from the Sheriff’s Office, EMS, Volunteer Fire, and IT) then took that information to County management and advocated for funding it,” explains Vance. “Once the project was funded, we brought the relevant parties together to iron out the details and set expectations and guidelines to fix the issue.”

The committee’s work determined 47 of the 52 Buncombe County and Asheville City School Systems campuses were in need of public safety radio system enhancements. “A common issue that is almost universally reported after an emergency occurs in schools around the Country is that radio system coverage and communication was lacking,” notes Vance. “Although existing buildings are exempt from a minimum radio system coverage levels mandate from the state’s fire code, County and City officials agreed that the schools should adhere to the new NC Fire Code retroactively, and that emergency responder radio coverage should be brought up to those levels.” After that, the team of IT professionals and school systems worked with a contractor to install Emergency Responder Radio Communications Systems (ERRCS). In short, these advanced systems boost external radio signals so they are clear and crisp throughout the inside of buildings despite any inherent challenges that might scramble that process. “This ensures first responders have the radio coverage they need if and when an emergency occurs, despite any building related issues such as metal roofs, low-E glass, or other construction materials that tend to interfere with radio frequency penetration,” says Vance. “This system is maintained and inspected annually, much like a fire alarm, to ensure it is operating normally and not causing RF interference.”

Buncombe County Schools Assistant Superintendent Joe Hough stresses that the safety of schools is a community collaboration. “There is no doubt how important it is for our school system to maintain a positive and productive relationship with our County government. We appreciate the leadership and support we have always received,” says Joe, noting the work that went into installing the new ERRCS is impressively thorough and really took the time to audit each campus’ needs. “The public safety ERRCS project assessed each classroom, hallway, and common area for public safety radio signal strength and then added amplification to address all problem areas. This important project represents one of many important layers of protection at our schools that keeps our students, staff, and visitors safe.”

Overall, Vance says the project was truly a great collaboration and showcases the diverse and exciting nature of public service. “During the installations, City and County Fire Marshals inspected each school as did City and County Permit Inspectors to ensure the contractor was performing as expected,” explains Vance. “Both school systems were also highly involved due to the need to cut through roofs and walls, set expectations with teachers and staff, and to ensure their needs were also being met.”

Buncombe County is proud of the work we do with our school systems, City partners, and between our own departments. We would like to thank the following partners for helping make this important initiative a success:

  • School Capital Fund Commission
  • Asheville City School System and SROs
  • Buncombe County School System and SROs
  • Buncombe County IT
  • Asheville City and Buncombe County Fire Marshals
  • Asheville City and Buncombe County Permits and Inspections
  • Buncombe County Finance
  • The Radio Technical committee
  • The County Radio Steering Committee