The Knoxville School District plans to use handheld, two-way radios for day-to-day functions and emergency situations.

The Knoxville School Board approved the purchase of 25 handheld radios on Feb. 10 after previously tabling the discussion. The radios will be distributed between each building, as well as the administration office and the maintenance team. The total cost of the radios is estimated at $14,825.00.

The radio system will expand the current system already used by the district’s transportation department, and four additional channels will be added for communication. The radios will be purchased through Unplugged Wireless Communications, the same company that works with the district on its current communication system.

According to Marion County Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Anderson, working with the same company on the new proposed radios will be cheaper to add to the current system rather than starting from scratch with a new system.

The proposal for the radios comes after more than two years of discussion between the school district, county public safety personnel and local, state and federal officials to develop an Emergency Operations Plan for the district.

“That document [Emergency Operations Plan], approved by the previous Knoxville School Board on June 24, 2019, represents the current best practices and strategies to increase the safety of our children and staff based on the experiences of others who have suffered a traumatic experience,” says Anderson.

Anderson advocated for the radios, stating they are the best and most efficient form of communication if the school district should face an emergency. Anderson says radio communication can be one to many, whereas telephone communication is typically only one-to-one. The radios will allow for quicker communication between district and emergency personnel.

Additionally, Anderson says cellular networks can potentially fail during an emergency due to higher call volume. For example, Anderson says the city of Pella experienced this during the Vermeer tornado in 2018. He also gave an example of a Pella police officer who could not make an outgoing call during Tulip Time in 2019, which was caused by a higher call volume due to thousands of visitors.

Board member Larry Scott, who originally opposed the radios, says he now favors the proposal after speaking with multiple citizens.

“When I was down in Florida, my brother had a school that was about half a mile away from his house, and they had a shooter situation there,” says Scott. “I was amazed at how quickly all agencies were able to be there … and it was all because of these radios.”

The proposal was approved 4-1, with Dave Smith voting no. Board president Marty Duffy voted yes but would still like clarification on daily uses of the radios. Duffy says he is also concerned about efficiency.

“My utmost concern is that it [the radio] won’t be where you need it, when you need it,” says Duffy.

Emily Hawk can be reached at ehawk@pellachronicle.com or by calling the Pella newsroom at 641-628-3882.

Emily Hawk can be reached at ehawk@pellachronicle.com or by calling the Pella newsroom at 641-628-3882.

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