E-911 operators back ‘home’

T-R FILE PHOTO Communications Operator Dan McCready, left, watches a large monitor, upper right, which shows exterior activity around the Marshalltown Police Department building, 22 N. Center St. on April 14. It also monitors the facility’s lobby, open 24/7. To the right is McCready’s colleague, Tammy Bowman.

“Anything can happen — and everything does” is the byword of the highly trained professionals working behind the scenes as E-911 communications operators working in the basement of the Marshalltown Police Department. The byword became reality late afternoon of July 19, as operators fielded many tornado-related calls from Marshall County residents.

Then the tornado hit — crushing downtown buildings nearby and elsewhere.

The resulting chaos outside was followed by a gas leak in the MPD building with authorities ordering all personnel out.

E-911 Communications Manager Teresa Lang and team walked over to the RACOM Corp. building approximately three and one-half blocks away to temporarily set up shop.

It was a logical choice, since RACOM is responsible for handling critical communications for 10,000 users ranging from police departments to sheriff offices to the Army Corp of Engineers in Rock Island, Ill. RACOM had been hit hard, but was able to fulfill its mission of keeping critical communication lines open.

“Our building was in the direct path and had peak winds of up to 144 mph,” wrote company President Mike Miller in a July 22 email to employees. “When the building was first built and when dad was alive I heard him say frequently and with great enthusiasm two things:

• ‘This building could withstand a direct hit from a tornado.’

• ‘This building is built to withstand winds up to 150 m.p.h.'”

“It was a challenge to get over to RACOM, but walking and trying to get around was extremely difficult for many residents that night,” Lang said.

RACOM officials set them up with basic equipment.

Marshall County E-911 calls went to a state office in Des Moines, and transferred to the E-911 operators in the RACOM building.

“We managed,” said Lange candidly. “All staff came in to help. They all went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure E-911 worked at a most critical time.”

The team worked three hours before authorities gave permission to return to the MPD building.

Emergency operators are the calm voice at the other end of the line when seconds count 24/7, 365 days a year.

“The (E-911) operators have one of the toughest jobs in law enforcement,” said Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper.

Not only do they accurately dispatch deputies, firemen and police officers — they are responsible for keeping track of 1,300 arrest warrants and more than 1,000 no contact orders. More than 75,000 E-911 and administrative calls were taken in 2017.

In December, it is estimated the Communications Center will be moved from the MPD basement to the new, joint MPD Marshalltown Fire Department headquarters under construction in the 900 block of South Second Street. Lang and staff are eagerly looking forward to the move.

“The Communication Center equipment consoles were ordered for delivery in October,” said Lang. “All of our IT, radio, 911 telephone installs will start as well.”

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com