SCHEART INC. is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide financial support for the expansion and enhancement of the SCHEART statewide emergency communications system in South Carolina, and to encourage amateur radio emergency communications.
SCHEART INC. is governed by a Board of Directors currently comprised of 4 members. Board members must be US citizens, residents of South Carolina and hold a valid amateur radio license. The Board is charged with raising funds for the enhancement and expansion of the SCHEART network, paying for approved expenditures and making sure that SCHEART INC. complies with all state and federal laws and regulations.
The SCHEART Network
The SCHEART system is comprised of networks of linked amateur radio repeaters strategically located throughout South Carolina. These repeaters provide an auxiliary communication path for amateur radio operators to support hospitals, county emergency management officials and state agencies during emergencies. Trained operators assist agencies in moving essential messages when commercial communications systems fail or state systems become degraded. SCHEART provides a digital network with 29 repeaters and an analog network with 15 VHF and 15 UHF repeaters located at broadcast and microwave towers owned and operated by the South Carolina Educational Television Network (ETV). The repeaters are linked together using the ETV microwave network for the benefit of the SCHEART initiative. The digital network is designed to provide talk group flexibility for local or statewide coverage while the analog network provides individual repeater linking to support local, regional or statewide coverage. The mission of SCHEART INC. is to support the SCHEART initiative with funding to expansion and enhance the system and so it can grow and improve to better serve the people of the state of South Carolina.
A Brief History of the SCHEART Network
The seeds for the South Carolina Healthcare Amateur Radio Team (SCHEART) project were first planted when hams and engineers in the Charleston area decided to place amateur radio equipment within local hospitals and support them with a network of repeaters that amplify communications signals. The Charleston-area initiative, known as the Hospital Emergency Amateur Radio Team (HEART), was envisioned and developed to support patient evacuation out of this hurricane-prone region.
The success of the HEART system led to the crafting of a similar system that placed strategically-linked repeaters around the state and linked them to form a statewide emergency communications network, known as SCHEART. These repeaters reach the majority of the sixty-plus hospitals that receive funding and support from the Hospital Preparedness Program under the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. This redundant communications network is located at broadcast and microwave towers owned and operated by the South Carolina Educational Television Network (ETV). The repeaters are linked together using the ETV microwave network for the benefit of the SCHEART initiative.
Phase One (2004 – 2008)
Phase One of the SCHEART project provided for all the equipment necessary to install seven UHF hub repeaters in the state. Federal funding for this came from a grant administered by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). ETV provided the project management and purchases were made through the State of South Carolina purchasing system. The repeaters were installed at Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia, Conway, Florence, Greenville and Orangeburg. Additionally, funds from the Greenville Hospital System and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) were provided to allow for two additional hub repeater installations: one at Caesars Head in the upstate and the other at Charleston/Awendaw in the low country.
Phase Two (2009 – 2013)
Phase two of the SCHEART initiative expanded the network to increase coverage and fill in gaps. Additional VHF and UHF repeaters were added at the following locations: Charleston Downtown (Wallace School), Edgefield, Rock Hill, Beech Island, Sumter, Barnwell, Murrells Inlet and Spartanburg.
The completed linked analog repeater system supports two simultaneous voice channels with central conference bridges located in Columbia. With a couple exceptions, repeaters are located at ETV facilities and use their corporate microwave system for interconnection. One statewide voice channel (UHF) supports healthcare and hospitals communication, and one statewide VHF voice channel supports additional emergency traffic to link counties with the State Emergency Operations Center. Network engineers can reconfigure VHF and UHF repeaters based on the emergency. SCHEART also supports V-SAT emergency communications trailer with a full complement of Amateur Radio, Local Government Radio and VTAC/UTAC radios for interoperability in support of hospitals statewide. SCHEART, integrates these components along with training hospital staff and volunteers to obtain amateur radio licenses. Hands on radio response training is provided along with weekly voice nets for operators to practice their communication skills using proven technologies.
During Phase 1 installation of the system, field test of D-STAR® capabilities were conducted in Charleston and Columbia. Several problems developed during the testing plan which halted the planned installation of D-STAR in the major metropolitan areas.
Phase 3 DMR (2014 – 2017)
In the late fall of 2013, a proof of concept test was conducted with Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) technology Little Mountain. DMR was being introduced in the commercial market and provides for two simultaneous conversations over one repeater frequency. Field tests indicated DMR overcame problematic issues of D-STAR® for emergency communication and double the capacity of the repeater. With support of the State Law Enforcement Division and South Carolina Emergency Management Division, Federal grants provide the money to build out an amateur statewide digital network to support command and control communications during emergencies. The DMR network provides state of the art radio capability to the amateur community for voice, text messages, radio alert and location services. The primary purpose of the network is to provide support to State, County and Local agencies during communication emergencies. The primary repeater network is located at SCETV facilities and uses their corporate microwave for linking to message routing servers located in Columbia. The system is configured to operate independently of the Internet when need, but is integrated with a similar network that covers North Carolina. During Phase 3 repeaters were installed at Greenville (Ceasars Head), Columbia (East, West and Downtown), Charleston (North, South and Downtown), Florence, Greenwood, Rock Hill, Barnwell, Lake City, Myrtle Beach, Georgetown, Murrells Inlet, St George, Sumter and Sumter Downtown. The DMR system allows partner repeaters to link via commercial Internet. These repeaters are owned by clubs or individuals but can access the statewide network and carry traffic. Partner repeaters are located at Anderson, Clemson, Pickens, Hilton Head, and Blufton. Mobile repeaters which can connect via a satellite link are located in the SCHEART V-Sat Trailer, Aiken County Trailer, and the Anderson County Trailer.
The success of the SCHEART system is the result of the cooperation of the Amateur Radio Emergency System, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency System, AT&T, City of Charleston, Medical University of South Carolina, National Weather Service, NC Carolina Amateur Radio Emergency Services, NC Healthcare Emergency Amateur Radio System, SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, US Health and Human Services, SC Department of Mental Health, SC Educational Television Network, SC Emergency Management Division, the SC Hospital Association, SC National Guard, SC State Guard, USC Center for Public Health Preparedness, York Technical College, State Law Enforcement Division, Department of Homeland Security and other concerned state and local agencies/organizations.
To support SCHEART, ETV volunteers conduct ham training classes and recruit licensees to become radio response team (RRT) members. ETV also coordinates the participation of hams in state, regional and local training exercises. The SCHEART licensing classes, Radio Response Teams, facility assessments, and exercise participation are intended to achieve the SCETV /DHEC/SCEMD vision of each hospital and healthcare entity in South Carolina and each County having a dedicated cadre of ham operators trained, credentialed and ready to support the facility in an emergency or whenever communications are crippled and lives are in jeopardy.
How can you help?
There are several ways that you can help SCHEART.
The first is through your cash donations, either one time or recurring. Every donation counts, from the largest to the most modest. Contributions can be made through our FaceBook page, PayPal or by check.
We also accept donations of equipment and materials that can be used by SCHEART. If you have something you would like to contribute, contact our treasure, Gene Retske, and he will arrange to have the engineering staff evaluate your potential contribution.
SCHEART INC. was created to raise funds for the enhancement and expansion of the SCHEART networks. South Carolina ETV is responsible for the planning, operation and maintenance of the SCHEART network, and SCHEART INC, working with SCETV, raises funds for projects designed to provide new and enhanced features and the expansion of the network.
Some examples of projects already funded by SCHEART INC. include:
- The addition of the West Columbia (Little Mountain) DMR repeater to the SCHEART network.
- Receiving donations of network components for expanded operations.
- Funding the upgrade and operation of the SCHEART.us website, in cooperation with SCETV.
- The addition of a VHF analog repeater in Union County.
Your contributions to SCHEART INC. will enable the SCHEART network to grow and upgrade service offerings to improve and expand the ability of the SCHEART network to provide emergency communications for the people of the state of South Carolina.
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