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County 911 system is in line for a major upgrade

HARTINGTON — Cedar County’s 911 system will be getting a major upgrade later this fall.

The county is preparing for what’s known as Next Generation 911 - new technology that allows the public to share videos, images and text messages with 911 call centers. The new technology also enables 911 centers to communicate with each other. Cedar County will join five other entities to connect their 911 centers through fiber optics.

The Cedar County Commissioners signed an interlocal agreement to join Dakota, Madison, Stanton, Dixon and Knox in a fiber optic 911 network at its meeting last week. The entities were chosen to form the network because they have compatible equipment to make it happen, said Emergency Manager Kevin Garvin.

The current system is from 50 years ago and can seem archaic by today’s technology standards.

Currently if the 911 dispatcher is on the line with a caller, a second call coming through will keep ringing until its answered. The dispatcher will have to put the first caller on hold to answer the second line. Not exactly ideal in emergency situations.

“Basically in the middle of an emergency and this has been an issue, ‘Can you hang on. We have to put you on hold.’ We put a caller on hold to answer another 911 call coming in,” Garvin said. “Our system can prioritize that now, can see where calls are coming from. If the calls are coming from the same location, the second one is more than likely related to the first.”

With the new upgrades, emergency calls that ring through unanswered by Cedar County can roll over to another county in the network.

“The current 911 systems were never built with cellphones in mind,” Garvin said. “The 911 as it exists, the technology is 50 years old, using old copper phone lines and old technology. Now it’s designed to use fiber optics and the advancement of computers.”

The new fiber optic network system will also include some redundancies to avoid lost connectivity.

Garvin counts himself lucky that he was on board in the late 1990s when the system was implemented - experience he can draw on now to make the needed upgrades.

“This is quite a task. It’s reminiscent of what went on back then - same process, lots of coordination,” he said.

The commissioners approved a contract for Lincoln-based OPTK to provide fiber optic network equipment and link the 911 centers together. OPTK is a consortium of local independent telephone companies that includes Hartelco in Hartington and Northeast Nebraska Telephone Co. in Jackson.

The project will cost about $48,000 with the majority of funds coming from the state 911 fund - accumulated from the various fees charged to cell phone and landline users.

Garvin hopes to have the fiber optic network up and functional by this fall.

“It’s a very fluid schedule with everything going on in the world with supply chain issues - a lot of moving pieces and parts,” he said.

The commissioners also appointed Garvin to represent Cedar County on the Northeast Nebraska 911 Board.

At its meeting last week, the commissioners also opened bids for a motor grader to be used in District 1 - the northern and middle western part of the county. Murphy Tractor and Equipment, based in Sioux City, Iowa, submitted a bid for a 2022 John Deere model for $311,843 after factoring a tradein value for the county’s used machine.

Nebraska Machinery, based in Norfolk, submitted a bid for a 2022 Caterpillar model for $334,370 after trade in. Both bids included a delivery date in about six months.

Commissioner Chris Tramp said he needs to review the bid specifications before making a final decision and will notify the bidders.

At its last meeting, commissioners also:

- Discussed a boat ramp at St. Helena that will need to be reconstructed or closed.

- Heard from Zoning Administrator Tim Gobel on an approved building permit for a 50-foot-by-100-foot machine shed for Rhonda Schieffer.

- Discussed a Cedar County property that includes a historical marker on changes that need to be made due to the property owner’s liability and insurance.

- Approved a tax list correction presented by Assessor Jeff Curry.

- Heard an update from Road Supt. Carla Schmidt regarding the potential closure of a road along the Dixon County line. She’s working with the county attorney on Dixon County on requirements for public hearings.

She also informed the commissioners that the bridge match funding is less than she originally thought due to a change in the state program.

- Heard an update from Weed Superintendent Justin Heikes. He received his commercial applicator’s license.