County considers dispatch consolidation

By DeeAnna Haney | Jun 12, 2013
Brandon Hooper is one of the dispatchers at the 9-1-1 Center.

In an effort to increase emergency response times and improve information sharing, emergency service officials have proposed to consolidate two separate dispatch entities in the county.

In his budget message to the county commissioners, County Manager Marty Stamey said the request for additional telecommunicators in the county's Emergency Operations Center was considered, and it is recommended the office consolidate with the Sheriff's Office Communication Center.

"The sheriff, 9-1-1 coordinator and I are currently evaluating space options to determine if it is more feasible to co-locate at the Law Enforcement Center or at the current EOC (located behind the Historic Courthouse)," Stamey wrote, noting funding for the consolidation is part of the proposed budget.

At one time when the Sheriff’s Office was located in the same building as the EOC, dispatch services were one in the same. But sometime in the mid-90s, friction between the former sheriff and the 9-1-1 EOC Center led to the separation of the two dispatch operations.

Currently, every 9-1-1 call made in Haywood County goes to the 9-1-1 center. Then, dispatchers push that call out to dispatch at the agency that will respond to the call. In addition to the separate county dispatch center, there are dispatch operations in both Waynesville and Canton.

Though it only takes seconds to push that call out, consolidation could mean time saved in an emergency, officials contend.

The sheriff’s office is on board with the proposal, said Chief Deputy Jeff Haynes.

“Right now we have two independent but identical services. Consolidation would eliminate redundancy,” Haynes said.

With all dispatchers located in one room, information sharing would be more fluid and emergency response times would improve, he said. That’s because instead of having to make an extra phone call to get information out about an accident, fire or other emergency, the information would be instantaneous.

And having a quicker response to emergencies is the main goal.

“When you’re talking about public safety, seconds can mean the difference between life and death,” Haynes said.

The benefits of consolidation would be great and the costs would be little, said Stamey.

The consolidation will reduce fire insurance ratings for fire departments which may improve homeowner insurance premiums, he said.

There is already a proposal for necessary upgrades to the 9-1-1 center, which will include hiring four new dispatchers, upgrading computer software and the call intake consoles. The cost of consolidation would not have any impact on the general budget, Stamey added.

There would be no job cuts involved — they would be simply bringing the two services together.

There are still several decisions that will need to be made if consolidation is approved. First is the decision about where it will be best to locate the services — whether to move 9-1-1 into the sheriff's office or vice-versa.

One option would be to simply have both dispatch services performing jobs exactly as they do now, but at the same location.

True consolidation would mean cross training employees from each center because dispatchers at each location have different certifications. Dispatchers at the sheriff’s office have certified access to criminal records while employees in the 9-1-1 center are certified medical dispatchers.

Last year's implementation of a single computer aided dispatch (CAD) system for all emergency services will help the consolidation effort.

“The most critical issue in any type of consolidation is you have to have a single operating platform for the CAD,” Stamey said. “We’re all on that same platform across the county now which helps immensely and that facilitates us to do this now in a much easier way.”

If there are any costs associated with moving the equipment from the current 9-1-1 center to a new location, if that’s what is decided, that money can be taken from the emergency telephone system fund. During the switch, 9-1-1 calls would be transferred to other dispatch centers in the county so as not to interrupt service.