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Emergency communication system failure on June 22

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Brad Pfantz, the State Center fire chief, tells the Marshall County Board of Supervisors about a failure in the emergency communication system on June 22. His fire department did not receive notification from the system regarding a residential fire.

The Marshall County Board of Supervisors learned the State Center Fire Department did not receive emergency notification about a house fire on June 22.

Since December 2019, the county supervisors have been discussing and receiving reports of a failing emergency communications system.

Brad Pfantz, the State Center fire chief, said the pager and radio systems were down June 22.

“I think it was possibly shared it was a human error or IT issue to the three of you and that was not accurate,” he said. “It was a hardware malfunction at the west site. Yet another illustration that the quipment is aged and failing more and more frequently.”

Pfantz said it was a critical issue that the department did not receive a page regarding a residential fire. He said if it had not been for the backup texting system the fire department pays for, they would have never been notified.

“I just wanted to bring that to your clarification,” Pfantz said.

Supervisor Dave Thompson said the county did receive conflicting information. Marshall County Emergency Communication Director Rhonda Braudis said there were two causes for the failure – the first cause was an email error which created problems with issuing pages. James Nehring, Marshall County Chief Information Officer, said the system did glitch caused by an upgrade.

Braudis said the second cause was due to the equipment, but the issue has been resolved for the time being. She said it was not the first time it happened, and will happen again.

Diana Richardson with RACOM — the Marshalltown company that can upgrade the emergency communication system – said the issue was caused by the age of the hardware and being housed in an uncontrolled environment.

Pfantz said there was a server issue which Nehring addressed, which happened the weekend prior. He said if there would not have been a text backup, the June 22 call would have been missed.

Thompson asked Pfantz if the fire chiefs in Marshall County have met to discuss finances to pay for equipment. Pfantz said the meeting will happen and the cities will begin making preparations to buy equipment.

He asked where the county is with the contract to improve the emergency communication system.

Supervisor Steve Salasek said the county received a $2.6 million 70-page contract from RACOM to improve the system and asked if there were funds available for the project. Thompson told him the county did not have the money.

Pfantz asked since the new fiscal budget year started on July 1, if the soonest the funds would be available is July 2021.

“That is not the impression everyone got the last six months,” Pfantz said. “The impression I had was the county had cash and would spread it out over two years. I will remind everyone this is an 18-month build out so if we don’t sign a contract until July 2021, we’re looking at the winter of 2023 before the system goes live. Am I following that timeline correct?”

Salasek said he understands Pfantz’s frustration.

Supervisor Bill Patten said Pfantz needs to let the Marshall County towns and cities know what equipment is needed. Pfantz said the radios and pagers are the responsibilites of the cities, but the infrastructure for that equipment is the responsibility of the county. The cities need to know when to start budgeting and when the contract will be signed. He said construction of the towers need to start and the radios and pagers do not need to be purchased right away, that the cities will have 18 months to budget.

Marshall County Auditor Nan Benson asked if the budget plans of the cities could be presented to the Board of Supervisors at the July 21 meeting. Pfantz said he would do his best.

“We were hoping for more definitive direction to let the chiefs know where we were headed,” he said.

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Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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