911 REGIONAL CONSOLIDATION
Early in 2014, eight law enforcement and fire agencies in Jefferson County who have communications centers worked with the Jefferson County Emergency Communications Authority to contract and complete a study on the feasibility and cost of a consolidated dispatch center. The study showed that it not only was feasible but also could provide a more efficient level of service to the community and the first responders. A Governance Committee was formed, made up of the eight agencies, to work through a foundation of how this consolidation would be developed and operate. This included work on an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) to officially form Jeffcom. The primary focus of Jeffcom, as stated in the IGA, is “to promote the safety of the public within the Jeffcom service area and to promote the safety of the law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and emergency medical services personnel of Members and Service Users.”
The Evergreen Fire Protection District Board of Directors and the Fire Chief have been discussing at their public monthly board meetings throughout the study and through the writing of the IGA, the pros and cons of having a local 911 communications center versus joining a consolidated center. On April 12 at 5:30 they will be voting on what they plan to do.
Here are the facts about moving or not moving call center operations to a consolidated location and how the Governance Board has addressed many of them.
PROS TO A CONSOLIDATED LOCATION
Currently all emergency calls are answered by a police dispatch center, information is gathered and then the call is forwarded to a fire dispatch center where the same information is gathered again before the ambulance or firefighters are sent. This results in a delayed response when time may be a critical factor. A consolidated center will have one phone answering point where it is determined what type of resource (law enforcement and/or fire) is needed. The call taker then forwards the information to the radio dispatcher, resulting in a significant cut in the time from receipt of call to dispatch of the resources. In cases where both resources are needed, the information is sent simultaneously to both.
Coordination among law enforcement agencies and information sharing is improved by having all information at one dispatch center. When calls cross-jurisdictional boundaries in Jefferson County, resources are easily mobilized for response.
Having all of the radio traffic in one center will enhance communication among agencies. When needed various law enforcement agencies or fire departments may easily be connected by radio for communication among those agencies. Communication among agencies during an emergency has been an on-going challenge.
Shrinking budgets require government to consider the most efficient means of providing service. Future purchases of Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems, maintenance contracts, 911 phone systems and technology for things like Next Gen 911 will only need to be purchased for one consolidated agency, not several. Additionally, phone and data lines for one center will be less expensive than duplicating those services in multiple centers as we do now.
The time from receipt of a call for service to the time responders are dispatched can be reduced through the efficiency a large center with many call takers would create.
Many of the current dispatch centers are challenged to have adequate staffing on duty for major emergencies or complex calls. They are staffed to handle a normal call load only. The challenge is to be able to answer all of the phone calls that come in during a flood, forest fire or major incident. A combined center has resources on duty that can be shifted to answer the large number of calls that an emergency generates. An example is the Evergreen Fire Rescue secondary public safety answering point (PSAP). Evergreen Fire Rescue provides dispatching services for most of the foothills fire departments. The center is typically staffed with a call taker and a dispatcher. During large-scale emergencies they depend upon the Sheriff’s Office communications center to handle the overflow of calls. When this occurs, it becomes difficult to share what is occurring with the incident and incoming information from citizens between the two agencies as they operate on two separate, unconnected data systems.
Many 911 calls are now received from cell phones. Emergency calls from cell phones will not need to be re-routed to the appropriate jurisdiction. One call center ensures that all calls for service in Jefferson County go to the single dispatch center.
Agencies within Jefferson County compete with each other for employees for their dispatch centers. Centers are constantly recruiting to fill positions. This one consolidated center will offer a highly competitive benefits and salary package that should keep the center fully staffed.
Significant cost savings will be achieved by each of the agencies that are signatories on the IGA.
The mountain agencies will still have a separate dispatcher handling radio traffic, utilizing the training manuals and the equipment Evergreen Fire Rescue currently has. During call surges, cross-trained dispatchers can assist at additional consoles.
CONS TO A CONSOLIDATED LOCATION
There is concern that cities and the County may lose control of the type and quality of services provided by a consolidated center. The IGA addresses this concern by placing the CEO’s of the law enforcement and fire agencies on the board of directors for the center. The IGA also provides for a law enforcement operations committee and a fire/EMS operations committee to work with the managers and the executive director on the wants and needs of the responders.
Residents of both the county and participating cities may experience a loss in their sense of “community” when jurisdictions consolidate. In short, there will no longer be a City of Lakewood, Evergreen Fire or Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. It will be the Jeffcom 911 center answering the calls. This is already in place for several agencies that provide dispatching services for other agencies. Evergreen Fire Rescue currently dispatches for five additional agencies.
Personal contact will be lost between officers, firefighters and the dispatchers. There is a relationship that is formed between the dispatcher and officer/ firefighter in the field. Field personnel recognize voices and have confidence in dispatchers.
Consolidation may result in loss of specific community knowledge. Many dispatchers and call takers are familiar with the businesses, citizens and geography of their jurisdiction. A dispatch center answering calls for a service community in excess of 500,000 people can be intimidating and result in the loss of the institutional knowledge for the smaller areas that the current centers now serve.
There may be a need to continue to provide personnel to perform the “other duties” a dispatcher normally performs. Evergreen Fire Rescue’s communication center takes calls on permitted slash burns, permissions to have campfires and other administrative calls. JeffCom will take over the handling of these administrative calls.
Many fear that their agency will lose control of all dispatch functions and that the smaller agencies will be “lost” in a large, consolidated center when consolidation occurs. This can be managed through a proper governance structure and a well-managed center that can address the specific needs of every represented agency. The operations groups consisting of line personnel bringing the needs of the responders to the consolidated center can also manage it.
A back up facility must be funded in the event that the regional center is unavailable due to an emergency involving the main center. Currently, most agencies have agreements in place with some other Jefferson County PSAPs. Under a consolidation there would not be another Jefferson County PSAP available and other arrangements must be made that could accommodate the call load a consolidated PSAP like Jeffcom would have. The plan would be to designate separate back-up centers for fire and law enforcement, thus reducing the size of the back up needed.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
If you have questions or concerns about what is happening there are a few things you can do.
- Contact Evergreen Fire Rescue Chief Mike Weege at mweege@evergreenfirerescue or call (303) 674-3145
- Visit the Evergreen Fire Rescue website www.evergreenfirerescue.com click EFPD Board and read the Meeting Minutes from multiple past meetings.
- Attend the monthly public EFPD Board meeting April 12, 2016 at 5:30 pm, 1802 Bergen Parkway in the EFR Administration Building.
This information is approved by Evergreen Fire Rescue and provided to the public by Fire Chief Mike Weege
For additional information please see the following links: