Groundbreaking within week at Hancock County communications tower site | community | Panda Anku

Rob Hillesland Summit-Tribune

The permanent solution to providing long-term, reliable emergency communications for Hancock County’s law enforcement, fire and rescue workers should quickly become a reality after site preparation work for a new tower near Duncan began on September 6th.

Hancock County Emergency Relief Coordinator Andy Buffington said there have been very few delays to this vital $1.8 million Motorola project during a time of shipping and supply restrictions. He noted that the total contract cost included about $300,000 for a multi-year maintenance contract.

Pyramid is the main contractor for the project, which will begin initial ground and foundation work. Buffington said this will be a roughly two-week process to prepare for construction of the new tower near Oak Avenue and Highway 18, east of Duncan.

“I think in the next six weeks or so we’re going to start to see the tower being erected,” Buffington said. He noted that the tower will now be 250 feet tall, instead of the originally planned 190 feet, due to some obstacles near Clear Lake to microwave transmissions to a Cerro Gordo communications tower on the south side of Mason City. It will also connect to a tower in Winnebago County near the intersection of Highways 9 and 69 north of Leland (Thompson Corner). Buffington said the only price change from the original project plans was an additional $18,000 for additional steel costs, which would be placed under the E-911 budget.

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The district will continue to use the Iowa Statewide Interoperable Communications System, developed by Motorola Solutions nearly a decade ago. The nationwide radio platform provides microwave-based radio communications for public safety agencies and others. Interoperability allows many different users to communicate with each other on a robust system. The tower (and radio) upgrade should provide a lasting solution to the county’s communications needs in public safety, public works, public service, healthcare, schools and more for the next 30 to 50 years.

“We’ve been using it for a couple of years now,” Buffington said. “In north-central Iowa, we are a very heavy user. Because the tower is centrally located in Hancock County, we will have much better radio communications for a very long time.”

Buffington explained that an “N plus 1” radio communication system used by precinct emergency responders will help maintain open lines of communication and have the ability to hear all emergency communications from neighboring precincts, which is not always the case right now.

“It will provide better coverage across the county,” Buffington said. “It really is a backup for a backup. It will allow them to be as prepared as they need to be for all scenarios. The more reliable communication for everyone in the circle frame is put very far into the future. This helps when people need help from officers, firefighters and rescue workers, while also ensuring they remain as safe as possible. This is their ammunition.”

The tower and system upgrades will eliminate the precinct’s coverage dips, which are primarily occurring around Britt and Garner. The situation around Britt was so dire that the Ministry of Public Security temporarily installed a portable communications tower there.

“We found functional ways to make it work,” Buffington said. “There are places in Britt, even with this portable tower, where it’s still not fantastic. But it will definitely get over them if anyone needs help.”

Buffington acknowledged that the backup generator for the new tower has not yet arrived and that there have previously been several delays in receiving the generator for the courthouse and law enforcement center. If there is difficulty in obtaining the county’s 50-kilowatt Generac generator needed for the tower, the company is willing to work directly with dealers to get one in a timely manner.

“The two potential heists are the generator and the actual microwave dishes,” Buffington said. “The more technical components were not a problem, but the actual dishes. When we signed the contract we figured at least 18-24 months to have everything. We’re glad they’re still citing the same completion date. It is scheduled for late March 2023 barring supply chain issues.”

He said delays are not expected at this time and many items have already been received, with some having been diverted to a Motorola warehouse in Des Moines in the meantime.

Rob Hillesland is the community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534 or by email at


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