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Supervisors take the first step toward new county radio system

February 8, 2019
By John Speer - Editor (js) , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

A Des Moines bond counsel was hired by the Tama County Board of Supervisors Monday in connection with the proposed issuance of up to $6,750,000 in bonds to pay for a new emergency and law enforcement communication system.

"Desperately needed" was Emergency Management and E911 Coordinator Mindy Benson's call Monday for replacement of the present radios and equipment which she has said are more than 20-years old. (See accompanying information provided to supervisors by Benson.)

1st District Supervisors Larry Vest, rural Traer, made the motion to hire Dorsey and Whitney LLC as bond counsel noting this action results in deferring action on a loan agreement and issuance of bonds. "We haven't spent a dime yet," he said by approving the bond counsel agreement.

Article Photos

Tama County Board of Supervisors (l-r) 1st District Chair Larry Vest, Dinsdale, 2nd District Kendall Jordan, Toledo and 3rd District Dan Anderson, rural Tama.
Chronicle / News-Herald file photo

Vest then went on to recommend meeting with Benton County officials and possibly those from Poweshiek County to determine if any sharing agreement for radio towers would be possible. He also suggested exploration of county-owned land as site for towers and for a look at competitive bidding.

3rd District Supervisor Dan Anderson said, "This is a great idea to go down this road and see what we can get done."

Vest's motion was approved on a 3-0 role call vote with 2nd District Supervisor Kendall Jordan, Anderson and Vest voting in favor.

Fact Box

Tama County first responders need a new emergency communications system

-This information was provided to the Board of Supervisors at their Monday, Feb. 4 meeting by Mindy Benson, Tama Coutny E911 and Emergency Management coordinator. A copy had been submitted to The News-Herald on Friday, Feb. 1.

Current State

Emergency first responders in Tama County are currently using a land mobile radio system that is putting their lives at risk and the lives of the public at risk. This life safety issue needs to be immediately addressed. The current system, nearly three decades old, has several problems:

Obsolete Components: The system cannot be repaired as parts are often not available.

Coverage: First responders don't have a public safety level of coverage and too many times respond to incidents in locations where their radios simply don't work. Coverage was poor prior to the 2012 VHF narrowbanding mandate, it is now at dangerously low levels.

Reliability: Today's critical communications system is plagued with regular failure, malfunction and breakdown. Not only does the poor reliability impact safety, it also drives up cost.

-System failures over the past 18 months have resulted in 400 hours of emergency technical service. This equates to nearly 45 minutes per day, every day.

Tower Integrity: Based on an engineering analysis of our current towers, many have been found structurally deficient with current antenna loads >100% of their rated capacity.

Summary: Our current system cannot be relied upon when needed, has outlived its useful life, and cannot be cost effectively repair ed or upgraded.


Based on our current state, the first responder team in Tama County has embarked on a dual track to help alleviate and eventually solve our current problems

1. Properly maintain and update the portions of our system we can in a thoughtful, cost conscious manner.

2. Research, evaluate and recommend a comprehensive solution to the system problems currently impacting our first responders.

After two years of research and evaluation, we believe the best solution, for the long term safely of our first responders and the public and in the best interest of local taxpayers, is to immediately embark on the construction of a new land mobile radio network for our first responders. A new system will provide the following benefits:

Coverage: A new system will provide coverage at the national public safety system level

Reliability: This system will be designed to an uptime standard of "Five Nines..." 99.999%

Cost: The system will provide long term cost certainty, with vendor guarantees of system support for 15 years

Interoperability: A new system will provide the ability for agencies within our County to seamlessly communicate with each other and will also allow communication with our mutual aid first response partners at all levels: local, county, state and federal.

Technology Recommended

Based on our research, we believe moving to a P25-based radio system, in the 700/800 MHz frequency band, is in the best interest of the citizens of Tama County. P25 is a set of standards produced by APCO and other national communications organizations to address the need for common digital public safety radio communications standards for first-responders and homeland security/emergency response professionals. We believe this solution will provide the interoperability, reliability and system longevity require by our first responders.

System Provider Recommended

There are two providers of 700/800 MHz, P25 based system in lowa, Motorola Solutions of Chicago, IL and RACOM Corporation of Marshalltown, IA. Both providers supply P25 standards- based technology of equivalent reliability. Our team recommends the RACOM solution (based on land mobile radio HARRIS technology manufactured by Harris Corporation) for several reasons:

Superior Coverage: The Motorola solution has a single site in Tama County and is designed for coverage provided to a mobile radio, not the in building portable coverage required by our first responders. The RACOM solution provides contractual guarantees for in-building portable coverage

Interoperability: Five of the seven counties surrounding Tama have upgraded their land mobile radio systems and have chosen the RACOM solution. Our recommendation of the RACOM solution will give us superior extended coverage into neighboring counites when compared to the Motorola solution and provide far greater interoperability with our mutual aid partners

Local technical support: All advanced land mobile radi and IP-based. They require specialized skill sets for system support to ensure long term reliability. We also require rapid response times, 24x7x365, in emergency situations. RACOM, with several local employees, has repeatedly demonstrated themselves to be highly reliable and responsive to all our technical service needs.

Cost: The RACOM solution has been less expensive than the Motorola solution in 100% of Public RFP procurement process completed in lowa over the past 36 months. Our recommendation includes purchasing the system at contract pricing at the most competitive and lowest level.

Additionally, Tama County 911 and EMA have worked with the Meskwaki Police Chief on the tribe's interest in joining in the system and cost to buy in. Both the Emergency Management Commission and the 911 Boards have funds that will also be put forth towards this project. There is approximately $700,000 that will be used for the project.


We recommend Board of Supervisor approval of funding to move forward with the procurement and deployment of a new P25-based radio system from RACOM for use by our first responders.

Terry Brennan, vice president of RACOM, a Marshalltown-based radio equipment supplier, cautioned supervisors Benton County was a year behind Tama County in planning for a new system. He described the planning process as "pretty intense" and said it can be a three to six month process.

A representative for Motorola radio also on hand Monday urged the supervisors to contact other counties which have chosen to use a new state-wide system which is Motorola-based.

Supervisors heard objections to the plan at a hearing on Jan. 22 concerning the cost to taxpayers and because the project was not put up for bids.

The radio system is mandated and therefore does not require bidding accruing to Benson She says the county E911 Board chose RACOM to supply it because it provides paging capabilities for fire, ambulance and first responder personnel and the alternative does not. She also said the board and her division have been satisfied with the service and response of RACOM in attempting to maintain the aging system in place.

In other business on Monday the supervisors:

learned a new window will be required in the Courthouse as part of the District Court security upgrades. The window will include a passage for materials under it from the hall corridor into the Clerk of the District Court Office. Cost of the window through Hrabak Lumber, Toledo, is $7,619 plus the cost of installation.

approved weekly claims totaling $208,856.



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