More than 50 firefighters, first responders, police officers and sheriff’s deputies filled the Dallas County Board of Supervisors chambers in Adel Wednesday morning to witness Iowa Gov. Branstad sign into law a bill partially funding a statewide communications system that will allow all the state’s agencies of law enforcement and EMS personnel to talk on the same wavelength in emergencies.
Senate File 2326 was passed virtually unanimously by both houses of the Iowa General Assembly in the closing days of the 2016 legislative session. The law will eventually pour about $40 million into the Iowa Statewide Interoperable Communications System (ISICS), with another $18 billion set aside for a 10-year maintenance plan.
Branstad said the legislation marks “another step towards accomplishing our goal of becoming a fully interoperable state.” The law also gives the state treasurer long-term financing authority for building out the network across Iowa.
“Currently,” Branstad said, “Iowa ranks near the bottom of the pack in states when it comes to statewide interoperable communications for our first responders. However, with the legislature’s commitment as well as that of local decision makers, we can make efforts to improve on our capabilities.”
Branstad praised Dallas County’s local decision makers — the Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff — for their commitment to the statewide digital radio system. In October the supervisors approved issuing bonds worth about $5 million in order to pay for the new system for all law enforcement, EMS and fire departments in the county.
“It is fitting that I’m signing this legislation here today in Dallas County,” the governor said. “Dallas County, under the encouragement of Sheriff Chad Leonard and the commitment of the county board of supervisors, is in the process of installing a new radio system for all public safety agencies in Dallas County. This system will link into the Iowa statewide interoperable radio system, allowing all Dallas County agencies to connect by radio to all other first responders in the state once they join.”
Money for the new law comes from the wireless E911 emergency communications fund of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Established by the Iowa legislature in 2013, the fund is supplied by a monthly surcharge on each cell phone number.
Iowa Public safety Commissioner Roxann Ryan joined Branstad at the signing ceremony and described the long-term vision for the digital communications network.
“The goal ultimately is to be able to provide coverage for the entire country,” Ryan said. “We’re one of the last states to get on board. There’s still a few other states that are a little bit farther behind than we are, but ultimately we would like to be able to communicate with people across state lines.”
Ryan said Iowa “should have the bulk of our system built out” within about two years. It will cover 96 percent of the population of Iowa, she said.
“For the cities and counties that want to join in, there’s no cost to them to join the state system,” Ryan said. “They can build additional infrastructure so they cover more areas, so they can communicate better from basements and hallways and increase the coverage within their area. So we provide the baseline, and they can add some additional equipment if they want to be able to enhance their capability for communication.”
Perry is among the communities participating in the countywide program to upgrade the radio system for police, firefighters and first responders. Perry Police Chief Eric Vaughn briefed the Perry City Council last November on the new digital radio gear his department and the Perry Volunteer Fire Department will get through Dallas County’s financing of the interoperable system.