On the morning of Wednesday, May 11, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad visited Adel and recognized Dallas County as a leader when it comes to communication in emergency management and for first responders.
Senate File 2326, which Branstad signed into law in Adel on May 11 in the Dallas County Board of Supervisors meeting room, allows for the implementation of a state-wide, interoperable communications system for emergency management officials so that officials from different departments and different jurisdictions can communicate with each other on their radios and manage emergencies together more easily.
Dallas County is the first county to connect to the new system and Westcom, which receives public safety related calls and 911 calls for the cities of Clive, Norwalk, Urbandale and West Des Moines, will be the next.
Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard said they hired consultants to help with the project and had interoperability in mind because they wanted to be able to talk to the counties surrounding Dallas during an emergency. He said that when another county connects with the system, it adds to their own system in Dallas County.
"Let’s say Guthrie County goes on the system and they flip the switch… that all of the sudden expands my territory and it expands their territory and it expands Westcom’s territory," said Leonard. "So everybody benefits by everybody joining the system."
What SF2326 officially does is direct the project manager to allocate $4.383 million to the department of public safety during the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2016 "to cover payments and other costs under a financing agreement entered into by the treasurer of state for building the statewide interoperable communications system," according to the bill.
According to the bill, the system "shall be under joint purview of the department of public safety and the department of transportation," with both departments jointly submitting a biannual report to the statewide interoperable communications system board beginning on July 1, 2016.
Branstad, speaking in front of elected officials and emergency management officials from around the state of Iowa, said that the bill, is another step in the state’s goal of being a fully-interoperable state.
"Currently, Iowa ranks near the bottom of the pack in States when it comes to statewide interoperable communications for our first responders," said Branstad. "However, with the legislatures commitment as well as that of the local decision makers, we can make efforts to improve on our capabilities."
Up until now, there has not been a way for 911 responders and emergency management officials to be able to talk with their counterparts in other areas during an emergency using their radio systems.
"When an emergency event happens and an Iowan calls 911, they deserve to have first responders that can communicate with each other via their radio system," said Branstad. "This bill helps to make that a reality for our state."
The origins of a project like this started nearly 15 years ago after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York and police officers and fire fighters were not able to communicate with each other. Branstad said that that event made it evident that interoperable communications systems were needed nationwide.
"There’s been encouragement for the states to go forward and do this all over and a lot of other states have done it," said Branstad. "It’s not without controversy because it’s relatively expensive, but it also obviously has tremendous potential to save lives and give us the capability we need to deal with emergencies of all kinds."
The cost of this new system is $40 million to build the infrastructure and $58 million total, which includes maintenance.
During an incident back in December a Des Moines homicide suspect was surrendered in Dallas County on Highway 141 south of Woodward. There were several agencies on the scene including the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, the Perry Police Department and Leonard himself from the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. As the scene commander, he had to walk around to each car to communicate with those involved because they were all on different radios and different frequencies.
"This will allow us to push a button and all of us talk," said Leonard. "Long overdue, but needed and I don’t care what anybody says: safety first and we’re here to protect our police and fire rescue."