Tower to increase emergency communication in county

By NICOLE HASEK nhasek@iowainformation.com

A nearly 300-foot emergency communications tower has been built in Seven Hills Park to increase law enforcement and first responder communication in Greene County.

Iowa recently switched to a statewide digital radio system that the Jefferson Police Department and Greene County Sheriff Department are transitioning into, with Greene County Emergency Management Coordinator Doug Hawn expecting it to be ready by mid-fall. 

“Our old system wasn’t necessarily broken, but as more people around us started switching to the state system, we were losing connectivity,” Hawn said. “We couldn’t talk to troopers, we couldn’t talk to DOT officers.”

The digital system is an upgrade from the VHF system they were using before. Hawn said bigger counties, like Dallas County, have been fully using this system and they were no longer able to easily communicate with them.

“We couldn’t talk to them and they can’t talk to us, we either get on the bandwagon or be left behind,” Hawn said.

During the system transition period, they are able to connect with the state troopers only through their base on Lincoln Way through transmissions from Carol, Perry and Coon Rapids. The call is then transferred to local law enforcement and first responders, which Hawn said is not ideal during an emergency.

This system will also benefit firefighter communication. Different fire trucks going to different locations will be able to join different “talk groups” so first responders arriving at different emergencies are not speaking over each other. With this change, the fire trucks will remain on their current paging system for emergencies.

“When you send a firetruck to a fire, and then we send another fire truck to a different fire on the other side of the county, in the past they were all on the same talk group and it got confusing,” Hawn said.

Ambulances will also be able to respond to emergencies outside of the county. With the old system, they often were not made aware of these events and could not offer services.

Sheriff Jack Williams has previously referred to the new tower as “the number one tower that gives us the ability to use the state’s interoperability communications system.”

The $3.3 million tower was approved by the Board of Supervisors earlier this year. It was built at Seven Hills Park to stay close to Jefferson, allow easy access if they need to get to the tower and because of the distance it needed to be from the airport. There needed to be 10,000 feet between the tower and the airport, and the tower had to be 20,000 feet from each end of the runway. Hawn said the only other option would have been to ask a farmer to sell them an acre.

Seven Hills Park is available to the community as usual, but guests should be cautious around the tower. Hawn said getting the tower activated is a “process,” and it still needs to be connected via microwave to towers in Perry and Templeton. They also have to test connectivity to their Lincoln Way office, which he hopes to complete in the next few months.

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