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Is upgrading the E-911 system necessary?

I applaud the Marshall County Supervisors for taking a critical look at the demands being made by emergency responders to finance E-911 communication system improvements (“Immediate Action Needed on Rural E-911 System,” Marshalltown T-R, Feb 5, 2020).

While I understand and appreciate the concerns being raised about upgrading 911 radio communications capabilities in our rural Marshall County communities, the reality is that the existing system is not as “severely deficient” as proponents suggest and many of the concerns raised can be addressed through much more cost effective means than making taxpayers shoulder the burden of a complete overhaul of the existing system.

Proponents of this request are largely from one community — State Center. Officials from State Center could easily address their concerns by funding their own purchase of new mobile and handheld radios for their fire department and join RACOM’s Shared Area Radio Agreement (SARA) network, which is the same radio system that law enforcement (including State Center Police), the Marshall County Sheriff, Marshalltown Police & Fire and several other agencies have already been using for several years.

The infrastructure is already in place; works extremely well; is already interconnected with the existing rural fire VHF radio system and would provide for the reliability and interoperability State Center officials desire. While there would be some ongoing subscriber fees to RACOM for its usage, this is far more cost effective long term than having the county build out, take over and maintain an entirely new system which will also surely have ongoing costs.

Furthermore, the existing paging notification system used by rural fire departments in the county actually works quite well and, with some minor tweaking, can continue to serve us for many years to come including making use of pagers and equipment most communities have already invested heavily in. Many other counties have done this, avoided unnecessary costs and are very happy with its performance. There is no need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to replace this.

Shame on officials in State Center who could have easily addressed their concerns of “… severe deficiencies…endangering residents…and first responders alike. ..” a long time ago by making their own modest investment in new radios and connecting them to the existing RACOM system. Instead they are now demanding the supervisors come up with millions of dollars, saddle taxpayers countywide with the burden and overbuild something that is really unnecessary.

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