Unifying dispatch systems makes sense

Jun 18, 2013

It’s refreshing to see that, at long last, Haywood County is moving toward a single dispatch center where emergency calls, whether they are medical, law enforcement or disaster related, will be handled out of a single location.

On the surface, it makes little sense to have two locations funded by county taxpayers that have around-the-clock dispatchers and state-of-the-art equipment designed to get the proper emergency responders where they are needed as quickly as possible.

At present, the Haywood County Sheriff’s office has a separate dispatch unit that notified its officers of calls. The 9-1-1 dispatch center has telecommunicators who handle calls for other emergencies, including fires, requests for an ambulance, or a host of other calls for help.

The current system of a dual dispatch framework in the county dates back about 20 years when Sheriff Tom Alexander believed his officers’ requests for information from the dispatchers took a second seat to other calls that were deemed more pressing.

That issue is no longer pertinent since each officer in the county is now equipped with an in-car computer that gives them direct access to needed information.

In its budget request, the Emergency Operations Center requested four additional telecommunicators. It was that request that prompted a review of the dual system and an agreement with current Sheriff Greg Christopher that the job could be done with the same number of dispatchers if they were working out of a central area.

If the county budget is passed as proposed, it approves the concept of the combined dispatch. The remaining issue will be where to locate the single center — at the law enforcement center in Hazelwood or the EOC office behind the Historic Courthouse.

Both Canton and Waynesville operate around-the-clock dispatch centers as well. Maggie Valley used the county’s service and Canton dispatches Clyde emergency calls. Police chiefs in both towns make compelling arguments for maintaining their own systems. The best one is that they offer a back-up location in the event something should go awry with the county system. But as technology advances, there’s a chance even that could be addressed, which could clear the way for even more efficiencies.

As county leaders strive to continue offering services required by state law and expected by citizens with little additional revenue, the dispatch consolidation proposal is an example of the forward type of thinking that can make this possible.

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