Johnston County, NC, is showing just how much can be achieved when agencies can seamlessly work together using a state-of-the-art digital communications system as the glue between agencies, departments and other counties. After receiving a new Harris P25 system, Johnston County immediately put it to a tough test with Hurricane Matthew bearing down. While the storm was menacing, the radio system passed with flying colors.

The Situation: Migrating from Analog to the Digital Future

Located within the Raleigh metro area, Johnston County faced the challenge of replacing an aging public safety radio system. Moving Johnston County from a legacy EDACS network to a brand new digital communications system took time and effort.

Shane Kilpatrick, the North Carolina Regional Manager at Communications International (Harris’ local dealer), spoke to the reasons why Johnston County chose Harris for the system upgrade. “The requirements were capacity above and beyond their existing system, as well as interoperability with North Carolina Highway Patrol and outside counties and agencies,” said Kilpatrick. “The P25 provides that flexibility and interoperability, and we were able to demonstrate that right out of the gate.”

The Challenge: Testing a New System During Crisis

October 1, 2016, marked the official cutover to the new digital communications system, and it could not have come any sooner for Johnston County residents. Johnston County officials chose October 1st because hopefully at that point in the year North Carolina was out of hurricane season and just before winter season. Despite their strategic planning, in less than a week of cutting over, Hurricane Matthew came knocking at Johnston County’s door.

During the hurricane, Johnston County faced levels of destruction it had never seen before; massive flooding, road closures, water main breaks, sewer plant damage and more. As a result, Johnston County 911 received nearly 250,000 requests to talk from responding public safety professionals within the first 12 hours of the hurricane.

Johnston County EMS Division Chief Josh Holloman reflected on responding to the challenges of Hurricane Matthew, answering more than 200 water rescues in 24 hours; not a typical call for inland North Carolina. Holloman was thankful that the new system allowed EMS “to communicate with all of the different partners” and, Holloman continued, “the fact that the Sheriff’s Office, which is in a different department, was able to communicate with our ambulance as was the fire department.”

The effective cutover was critical to Johnston County public safety professionals’ ability to respond to the hurricane. Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell spoke to the success of the new system, “We put it to the test and it works every time.”

The Results: An Interconnected Johnston County

The new P25 Phase 2 digital communications system was indeed put to the test immediately. Hurricane Matthew was a sink or swim situation for Harris and Johnston County, both rising to this enormous challenge. The ability to effectively communicate between all public safety agencies within the county, plus those just outside the county, was paramount to Johnston County’s effective response. With an overload of incidents, the likes of which Johnston County had never seen before, the new system ensured that no one was left without the help they needed.

“Overall, the P25 system has been outstanding,” said Johnston County 911 Director Jason Barbour. “We couldn’t have asked for any better outcome of our P25 migration.” Barbour continued, “I think that’s huge that you not only have a communications vendor, but you have a manufacturer that actually listens to the customer and will actually answer their phone calls when you need them.”

A system of this magnitude requires a lot of different people and agencies coming together and uniting for the purpose of saving lives. Sheriff Bizzell remarked on the critical role Harris played in Johnston County’s success. “When you’re out there on a call and you need assistance, we look at that Harris radio as our life-saving tool,” said Bizzell. “We’ve decided on Communications International and we’ve decided on Harris radios; we made the right choice.”

There is no clearer test of Harris’ commitment to the customer than in Johnston County. The system was put to the test early, passing with flying colors to ensure the safety of the residents of Johnston County in a time of crisis.