Beaufort County Sheriff's Office wants new robot for bomb squad

cconley@islandpacket.comApril 5, 2013 

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office is close to purchasing a new remote-controlled robot for its bomb squad.

Sheriff P.J. Tanner says the device, which costs about $121,000, will supplement the department's current robot that's nearly 14 years old.

"It's a newer and it's a smaller version, which allows us to use it in different areas," Tanner said, noting that robotics technology has improved significantly since the existing robot was built.

Beaufort County Council's Governmental Committee this week unanimously endorsed the purchase from ICOR Technology. The Canadian company submitted the lowest bid that met county requirements, according to a memo from county purchasing director Dave Thomas.

Money for the robot is coming entirely from a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant, with no county match required. The grant also will cover training and future maintenance costs.

Nonetheless, County Council must approve the purchase.

Although Tanner declined to share details about the robot's capabilities, bomb robots shown on ICOR's website can climb stairs and tow and drag various items under the control of a specially trained operator. Most are equipped with multiple cameras and can travel up to 5 mph.

The county's bomb squad was accredited by the FBI in 2009. It's now one of seven in South Carolina certified to assist other regions with potential emergencies, Tanner said. The new robot is among the equipment recommended for these special units.

Tanner wasn't certain how many frequently the current robot is deployed in a typical year, but he said summers are generally the busiest times. The robot also has been used several times in the past six months, including an incident Jan. 3 when a suspicious backpack was found on Island Drive at Old Woodlands Plantation on Hilton Head Island.

County administrator Gary Kubic said it makes sense to take advantage of federal grants like this one when possible.

"In the crazy world we live in, it's better to be more prepared than less prepared," he said.

Assuming the purchase is approved, Tanner said it could be several months before the new robot is in service.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

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