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EMS Communications: A 'Life or Death' Decision

There are many points of failure with the current system which was implemented more than 10 years ago.

(TNS) — Mark Williams, head dispatcher for Union County, Iowa, is partnering with Emergency Management Director Jo Anne Duckworth to upgrade the county’s emergency communication system.

With the current communication system, which was implemented more than 10 years ago, there are many points of failure.

“It’s needed because we can’t reliably page all of our departments,” said Williams.

Williams and Duckworth said the new communication system is necessary. One reason is that dispatch is unable to page Lorimor Fire Department. To do so, the Union County dispatcher has to call the Madison County dispatcher, who then pages the department. Additionally, Williams is unable to communicate with Afton firefighters the farther east they move in the county because the signal doesn’t reach that far.

The current system forces emergency responders to take time to search for signals, which many first responders believe will eventually cost someone their life.

“We have instances in the hospital where they aren’t even getting their pages just because of where the tower is,” said Williams. “In a medical situation you only have so many minutes. And, that can be the difference between life and death.”

The proposal

The project, which could cost taxpayers between $5 million and $7 million, would be used by every public safety agency in Union County: Creston and Afton police departments, Lorimor, Afton and Creston fire departments, Union County Sheriff and Union County Emergency Management. In the initial rollout, Union County Secondary Roads and the city of Creston public works departments will also be included.

Williams said that while the cost will fall on the taxpayers because it is essential, the new system will benefit everyone — emergency personnel and the general public, alike.

“There is no single entity whose budget could support a project of this magnitude,” said Williams. “We are going to have infrastructure we’ve never had before.”

The proposal includes four-site paging, which includes utilizing the current tower (Creston water tower), Dodge Center tower and KSOI tower, and building one new tower.

“It’s going to give us the entire county coverage on the paging to get those responders notified of a call,” said Williams.

In addition to the new infrastructure, the proposal includes new paging systems and subscriber radios for public safety officials.

The first bid from Motorola rolled in at $5.1 million, with an additional $1.9 million maintenance and upgrade fee.

“They are going to monitor all of our equipment 24 hours a day and look for problems, They will come out, troubleshoot and fix the problems included in that,” said Williams.

A bid from RACOM came in at $4.1 million, with maintenance coverage at $1.4 million.

To cover the cost of the new emergency communication system, the Union County Board of Supervisors has met with Spear Financial and is currently reviewing bonding options.

Public forum

Williams strongly encourages the public to attend a public forum 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Union County Emergency Management office, 705 E. Taylor St.

“We want you to come. We want you to know why we’re doing this. We want you to be informed,” said Williams. “I want the public to know how dire this is.”

Once the public forum has taken place, the Board of Supervisors will set mandatory public hearings and a date to vote as to whether it will bond the project or not.


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