Study: Merge dispatch operations

There's strength in unity, says a new report that suggests merging county dispatch operations. The report RCC Consult
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

There's strength in unity, says a new report that suggests merging county dispatch operations.

The report RCC Consultants wrote for the Erie County Commissioners recommends merging Erie County police, fire, emergency medical service and sheriff's office dispatch services into a single communications center.

The consultant's recommended option would merge five separate dispatch operations for the Sandusky, Perkins and Huron police departments with dispatch operations for the sheriff's office and the Margaretta Fire Department.

Each of those five serve more than one agency; for example, Perkins police dispatch also fields calls for the Perkins Fire Department.

The proposed merger would exclude three other dispatch operations: Vermilion and North Coast EMS, which serve more than one county, and the Cedar Point police, a largely seasonal operation.

None of the three wanted to participate in a consolidated dispatch operation, the report says.

The RCC Consultants report outlines three possible alternatives.

Aside from the combined dispatch operation the consulting firm favors, it also looks at combining the sheriff's office with the Sandusky Police Department, while keeping the Huron Police, Margaretta Fire and Perkins Police dispatch operations separate.

A third alternative is to combine the Huron, Perkins and Sandusky police operations with the Margaretta Fire Department but keep the Erie County Sheriff's office separate.

RCC sent the draft report to the Erie County Commissioners on Wednesday.

Commissioners released the report Thursday after deleting information about police radio frequencies.

The report is a rough draft.

RCC plans to polish it after Erie County officials provide comments and questions, then issue a final report Aug. 15.

That final report will be the focus of a public hearing Aug. 21.

A committee of county officials considering consolidation of county dispatch services, chaired by commissioner Tom Ferrell, was scheduled to examine the draft report at a meeting at 11 a.m. today.

County officials are under pressure to comment quickly on the report so the final draft can be issued next week, county administrator Mike Bixler said Thursday.

RCC's report cites three reasons for merging as many local dispatch operations as possible into one communications center:

n County residents and police officers would both be safer because a single center could do a better job of making sure the nearest police unit is sent to respond to a problem.

"This will minimize response times and increase the overall efficiency of all public safety agencies within the county," it says.

n If all 911 calls were answered in one place, they would not have to be transferred from one place to another. That will save time, reducing life-threatening delays in responding to emergencies.

n Combining all of the dispatch operations would save $120,654 a year in annual salaries by reducing the number of dispatchers.

(The report cites $120,654 in two instances, but in another place states the savings in salaries would be $88,276. Mike Weins, project manager for RCC Consultants, said late Thursday afternoon the $120,654 figure is correct.)

Merging operations would likely allow police departments to eliminate other positions, and consolidating dispatch operations in one location would cut building and equipment costs, such as the cost of maintenance and emergency power equipment, the report says.

To achieve those cost reductions, however, the county would have to make an initial investment to house all of the dispatch operations in a new, bigger location. The recommended option would cost about $2.2 million for a new building, or $1.8 million if an existing building is renovated, the report says. Modifying equipment for the combined operation (so the same software is used by every agency) would cost $760,400.

Other advantages of a combined dispatch center include making it easier for agencies to cooperate during a big emergency and making it easier to upgrade to new technology.

The report also recommends using a single management to run the combined dispatch center. That would allow uniform pay and policies for all of the people working there.

It also recommends combining the consolidated dispatch center and the emergency operations center into one operation. Finally, it says the Perkins dispatch center should be used as a backup for the combined dispatch system, because Perkins has the newest dispatch facility and has spare capacity.