911, other emergency services put under Sheriff's Office purview

rlurye@islandpacket.comOctober 25, 2013 

Beaufort County's enhanced 911 service and other emergency- and traffic-management operations have been transferred to the Sheriff's Office.

The shift was completed Oct. 7 and announced this week. It returns many responsibilities that the Sheriff's Office held until 1989.

"It was just easier to create a central chain of command using the Sheriff's Office," Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic said. "This creates a simple, clear, process."

The change is designed to bring the Sheriff's Office closer to a complete overhaul of its technology and information systems, which would be more complicated without streamlined management, Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.

Within the next year, the division plans to purchase a new computer-aided dispatch system and launch a next-generation "E911" system that will allow residents to report crimes through text messages, photos and video, Tanner said.

The shift also creates a more logical chain of command, particularly for three Sheriff's Office employees who already held top positions within the county's Emergency Management Division.

One of those officers, 30-year veteran Lt. Col. Neil Baxley, will head the new Emergency Management Division. Sixty-eight employees will be added to Sheriff's Office supervision, although the department's budget -- $7 million for the current fiscal year -- will remain separate, according to a county news release.

The move did not require approval from the Beaufort County Council, Tanner said. He and Kubic began discussing possible changes -- and their pros and cons -- in February, the sheriff said.

On Oct. 1, Tanner and Kubic decided to merge the department, Tanner said. A week later, the move was formalized with a letter from Kubic.

The county announced in February it would update its E911 system and in March awarded Hargray Communications at 10-year, $2.35 million contract to install the fiber-optic lines necessary to make it work.

A spokesman for Hargray declined to comment on the project's progress.

The new network will likely launch within a year, and a computer-aided dispatch system will be ready for use within 12 to 18 months after its purchase, Tanner said. He also plans to seek accreditation for the Emergency Management Division.

"Communication is going to be head and shoulders above where it is now," he said. "Within the next year, we're going to be in great shape."

Video: Sheriff P.J. Tanner on oversight of emergency dispatch in Beaufort County

Beaufort County (S.C.) Sheriff P.J. Tanner explains why the sheriff's office should run the emergency management department formerly managed by Beaufort County government.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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