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Webster Supervisors move county radios into the digital era

Move will allow Webster County first responders to communicate with other agencies

Webster County’s Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to sign $2.3 million in contracts to upgrade the county’s radio communications system and a tower.

The county’s old analog system is in need of an upgrade as agencies from other counties and the state started to move to digital, leaving Webster County at a disadvantage in communicating with them for fire, police and emergency medical service responses across county lines.

“It’s a lot of money, but we’ve seen what other counties have done and how we’ve lost communications with surrounding counties,” said Dylan Hagen, Webster County emergency management coordinator. “The money will be well spent.”

State agencies like the Iowa State Patrol are already on the new system. Webster County has had difficulties with Wright County, which went digital.

“It’s a long time coming,” said Supervisor Nick Carlson. “I’m happy this day is finally here.”

The $2,195,072 contract with Motorola includes the provision of three radios for each Webster County agency, with the option for them to purchase additional radios at about $5,000 each.

Supervisors also approved $105,200 to allow for engineering of upgrades to a tower, which will give better coverage to the southern half of the county.

The upgrade will be funded by an essential bond, paid back over seven years. Agencies choosing to purchase additional radios will be responsible for paying back the cost.

Hagen said the new system’s stronger strength, 700 to 800 megahertz, will allow interoperability between agencies across the state, making dedicated channels a thing of the past as it introduces interesting new features.

The new system will be dual-band, meaning that Webster County will still be able to communicate with other counties still on analog.

“They’re basically small computers,” said Hagen. “They do a lot for us.”

Officers in an emergency situation can push a button on the new radios, which will send maps showing their exact GPS location to the necessary parties for backup.

“The big thing is we didn’t want to be the first ones to do it,” Hagen said, taking pointers from other counties to streamline Webster County’s transition.

He said county agencies should be transitioned to the new system by summer or fall of next year.