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County collects $1 million for upgrades

Andy Ouriel • Aug 27, 2014 at 3:04 PM

The cost to relay most 911 calls in Erie County almost matches how much Cleveland Indians All-Star Jason Kipnis made in 2013.

But the expense, like the dynamic production of the Tribe’s second baseman this past season, is a bargain, officials contend.

Various communities participating in Erie County’s regional dispatching program collectively spent about $450,000 in 2013, according to a Register analysis of financial data obtained through a public records request.

But the cost could’ve easily eclipsed $1 million, backed with taxpayer funds, had officials overseeing numerous political subdivisions not switched over to Erie County’s regional dispatching program.

Local officials tout regional dispatching as a more efficient way to communicate emergencies in terms of lowering both costs and response times.

Regional dispatching communities pay a fee based on how many calls are generated in a particular area. The more calls emanating from a political subdivision, the more money it pays.

911 setup

Regional dispatch brings together 911 operators from across the county to communicate for multiple police and fire departments.

The dispatchers collaborate as one entity inside the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

Up until a couple years ago, each political subdivision employed its own dispatchers, serving a single political subdivision.

Those 911 communicators only relayed emergency calls for that particular community’s police or fire department. Sandusky, for instance, hired dispatchers as city employees and only transmitted emergencies for the city’s fire and police departments.

But several negative consequences occurred as a result of this system.    Among the most glaring: Dispatchers transferred calls from one agency to another when seeking extra help or needing assistance on fringe areas, such as the border of Perkins Township and Huron Township.

Perkins dispatchers, in this scenario, couldn’t automatically tell if a Huron ambulance could arrive faster than a Perkins one at a scene.

So Perkins dispatchers needed to call Huron dispatchers to locate a vehicle — a timely process wasting precious moments during heart attacks, seizures, fires and gun shots, among other such emergencies.

But now dispatchers, sitting side by side in one room, can talk with each other, see where all the area’s emergency vehicles are on a digital map and send the closest vehicle to an emergency — regardless of what community name is imprinted on the vehicle.

In 2013, response times decreased compared to years prior, and the flow of communication between emergency responders has greatly improved, Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said.

“It’s a matter of cooperation and collaboration among the agencies in the county,” Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said.

Contract costs

Regional dispatch requires fewer 911 communicators to work, compared to each political subdivision employing its own 911 communicators, driving costs down.

The other main factor for a monetary savings results from participating regional dispatching agencies sharing technology and equipment.

Each community previously operated with its own technology and separately purchased equipment.

Among the communities saving the most via regional dispatch:

• Sandusky officials reduced dispatching expenses from $420,000 in 2011 to $280,000 in 2013.

“The primary reason for this was to become more efficient,” Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci said.

• Huron officials quadrupled its savings, from paying $183,000 in 2011 to roughly $43,000 in 2013.

“Having one central datapoint to understand where all the county’s resources are is very important,” Huron city manager Andy White said.

• Perkins Township officials cut costs, from about $400,000 in 2010 and 2011 to $112,000 in 2013.

“Regional dispatch is one of the best things that can be put into place for the residents of Perkins Township and Erie County as a whole,” Perkins police Chief Ken Klamar said. “Having everyone right there in one central location is going to pay dividends”

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