network, we never lost contact between the dispatcher and the deputies who were in the chase." In the old days, with agencies operating on a patchwork of different radio bands, this would have been impossible, he said.

Border Crossing

The reach of PAL 800 is extending beyond the state border as South Carolina makes connections with neighboring jurisdictions. "Every North Carolina Highway Patrol district office that touches South Carolina has our equipment in their highway patrol office, so they can talk to those regions that touch them," said Crouch. "We are in the middle of doing that with Georgia on the other side."

Besides reaching out to neighbors, the state and Motorola also are in the midst of another project, a multiyear effort to move the radio system from one set of 800 MHz frequencies to another. This is part of the mandatory, nationwide rebanding effort that will separate all 800 MHz public safety radio channels from channels used by the Nextel wireless network.

Rebanding poses a major challenge for South Carolina because it's impossible to convert the entire state system at once. "We're still pounding out how to do this transition and this frequency update without totally confusing all the public safety agencies for a year or so before everything's completed," Crouch said.

Despite that and other struggles, PAL 800 continues to flourish, thanks to creativity sparked by necessity. Credit also is due to all the participants who collaborate so well on the network, Crouch said. "It has truly been a partnership between the vendors, the power utilities and public safety. That's what's made us successful."

 

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer