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County should move quickly on communications system

Marshall County is in immediate need of a reliable emergency communications system and elected county officials need to move quicker than they are.

In December, State Center Fire Chief Brad Pfantz told the Marshall County Board of Supervisors about the failing system — a system that has resulted in missed or failed emergency calls and notifications.

Eight months later in August, the beginning steps to rectify the situation have not been taken.

There has been a lot of talk and not a lot of action. The first step to upgrade and improve the emergency communication system is for the county to sign a contract with RACOM — Marshalltown’s telecommunications contractor which specialize in emergency response systems.

The signing of the contract will kick off the 12- to 18-month process required for upgrading the rapidly failing system.

Supervisors have made it known the $3 million necessary for the system is not readily available. To help offset the costs, towns and fire departments in Marshall County are responsible for securing funding for radios and pagers. Marshall County is responsible for the infrastructure — the towers and equipment needed for those radios and pagers to work. With smaller entities taking on that financial burden, that leaves the county with a $2.7 million price tag.

Other counties in the state — such as Tama, Grundy and Story – have upgraded communications system in a shorter span of time. Pfantz said Tama supervisors used an essential purpose bond, which is an option Marshall County could utilize, unless there is another another way to finance the project.

The county would end up borrowing money for the bond, but a working emergency communications system is indeed essential.

Residents are not being protected when emergency responders are not receiving notification. For example, a June 22 house fire response in State Center was compromised because of a hardware malfunction at the west tower site. The fire department didn’t receive any alert.

The failure had happened before. The equipment has been fixed, but it will fail again, according to Rhonda Braudis, the communications manager for the Marshall County Communications Commission.

The contract to upgrade to system needs to be signed and the process needs to be begin. If the supervisors wait until the beginning of the next fiscal year — July 1, 2021 — residents are looking at a possible finish date of January 2023.

The system is already failing at a fast rate. It will only get worse as more time passes.

If the essential purpose bond, or another financing suggestion, was used and the contract signed this month — in August – residents could rest easier with a reliable, working system by February 2022.

It is the county government’s responsibility to provide for the safety of its residents. Ensuring emergency responders receive alerts of life-threatening situations is something the supervisors need to take far more seriously — before lives are unnecessarily lost due to radio failure.

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