Digital transition for first responders handed to PSAP

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MONTROSE – A proposal to switch emergency radio frequencies in Lee County from UHF to digital was handed over to the Public Safety Answering Point board Wednesday night.

At a meeting of the Lee County E911 board, Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber, who’s an alternate on the E911 board, but chairs the PSAP board, said it was time to get moving on the digital conversion.

The move would require purchasing equipment that is digitally compatible, some of which is already being purchased as part of attrition through county emergency departments. The E911 board is the taxing district that generates revenue, in part, for the communications equipment of all emergency responders in the county. Weber said the cost of the conversion, which has already taken place in the majority of the state, could exceed $1 million.

He said all new equipment and equipment upgrades that are purchased are digitally compatible and will work with the new program when it’s implemented.

Weber brought the rest of the PSAP board to the meeting to present a unified board asking the members of the E911 board to turn it over and hire a different consultant. Currently the E911 board was working with Loftsgard Consulting out of Adel, Iowa for guidance.

“We’ve got to the point where everybody’s ready for someone to go ahead and get this thing started, at least get it moving in a direction,” Weber told the board. “The PSAP board has been over it at every meeting, and two meetings back, the PSAP board voted that we’d like to head this up.”

Weber said the PSAP board wants to opt out of the contract and start fresh with a larger company, at an initial cost for the first phase of consulting at $29,000. He and E911 Chair Tonya Harvey have spoken with officials at both companies and attorneys and said there are no legal hurdles to switching consultants. Weber said the project will take 18 months at a minimum.

“Everything we do with this project comes through here and will be paid for by you folks, but in order to move faster, the PSAP board wants to go ahead and take the helm.”

Board member Steve Cirinna said no matter who the consultant is, the first thing they should do is look at the pros and cons of each possible digital platform that can be used and present that information.

Fort Madison Police Chief Tim Sittig said that’s all part of the consultant work.

“They go into researching what’s available and what it’s going to cost and provide us with options and then follow through assisting with implementation,” Sittig said. “The one we looked at has a larger staff and more experience on a broader range to help us out with those decisions,” Sittig said.

Weber said the goal will be to get by, making the transition as inexpensive as possible.

“But to the benefit of all the first responders, we just have to get moving on it,” Weber said. “I’ve talked to probably 10 other sheriffs who’ve already gone through the process and they all started the way we did trying to do it inexpensive, but you have to be really careful.”

Sittig said because of the large scope of the project, it will be important that PSAP and E911 work together to get the project rolling.

Keokuk Police Chief Dave Hinton also told the board it was time to get moving on the project.

“All the questions you have we’ve asked,” Hinton said. “We have to rely on the experts to get answers for those questions. It’s a huge project and a big expense,” Hinton said.

Fort Madison Fire Chief Joey Herren said the financial impact will be complicated.

“Financial side is the complicated part because you’re going to have to pay for this with a bond, so it’s going to have to go under a mil levy,” he said. “We use this upfront money to pay for the consultants. We’ve asked the right people and it is available to do that through you folks. This board kind of controls that money, so we need the blessing of all you folks to help us get this done financially,” Herren said.

The E911 board did vote to opt out of the last phases with Loftsgard and voted to allow the PSAP board to take over the transitioning of the county to digital communications.

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