Leverage for Efficiency, Accountability and Performance (LEAP) Fund for performance audits
A working group of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has published a report detailing the intricacies of consolidating public safety communications centers and identifying issues that have been already been obvious.
The Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) was formed in early 2009 and tasked with providing recommendations on “optimal security, reliability and interoperability of communications systems, including telecommunications, telecommunications, media and public safety communications.”
Among the group’s findings on consolidation projects:
- a trusted champion must lead the project
- buy-in is the second most important challenge
- legislation may be required to create sustainable funding
- “Personnel issues are difficult and troubling…and require a great deal of thought at the policy-level early on.”
Despite the challenges, consolidation can produce long-term cost efficiencies, the group concluded, and will result in a “better trained and more focused work force, increasing the level of public safety.”
Factors such as poor response times, duplication of services, escalating costs, fragmented operations, and poor coordination have motivated communities nationwide to consolidate dispatch operations with adjacent communities. When consolidation makes sense, intensive planning must be undertaken to ensure that service and coordination improvements are realized for all affected first responder agencies
When evaluating the viability of any dispatch consolidation, “people considerations” (human assessment factors) must include the following:
- What will happen to the 24 x 7 service window and the administrative functions that your dispatchers perform now?
- Will dispatchers working in a consolidated center be as knowledgeable about new communities as their current locales, and are creative measures needed to familiarize dispatchers with first responders from other communities?
- How would quality of service be affected during very busy times? How will it be measured?
- Would any dispatchers lose their jobs or seniority, and what would be the fallout?
- What actions are needed to minimize friction as personnel from different organizational cultures work together?
Consolidation will affect your citizens, businesses, agencies, public safety officials, and first responders. Mechanisms to develop, promote, and preserve trust must be put in place (human planning factors). These should include:
- Establishing clear and measurable goals for consolidation;
- Ensuring that all changes are transparent;
- Understanding how agencies currently do business;
- Clearly delineating the relationships between chief officers, responders and dispatchers;
- Drafting clear agreements for responsibilities, tasks, command and control of field units, and relationships with the consolidated communications center.
Understanding the expectations that leaders have for the quality and level of services in their communities is paramount. Governance tasks to be undertaken should include:
- Evaluating statistics pertaining to emergency and non-emergency call volumes, and dispatch workloads and making projections for each;
- Identifying current and near-term threats, hazards, and problem areas that will affect public safety communications;
- Reaching consensus on the type of communications organization that would best serve participating communities;
- Determining the new management structure and staff responsibilities.
Each unit of government has a fiduciary responsibility to local residents, and cost concerns often drive consolidations. The following budgetary considerations are essential:
- The current cost of operations must be quantified, including infrastructure, personnel, and administration;
- Audit and control obligations, financial controls, bonding authority, and regulatory requirements must be examined;
- Local methods of revenue generation must be analyzed, along with projected call volumes, to develop models for cost analysis;
- The cost of current technology must be quantified;
- A cost-benefit analysis must be performed regarding any new technologies or facilities necessary for consolidation.
Last, before acquiring new technology, communities must assess current capabilities, determine future requirements, and identify crucial needs that are not currently met. Technology-acquisition decisions and the evaluation of tools and products should encompass the following:
- Operational data must be assessed, including all aspects of emergency calls, non-emergency calls, dispatch, mutual aid response, and incident command procedures;
- A clear understanding of user requirements must be developed and consensus reached;
- Technical solutions must be assessed and correlations made to local requirements;
- In some consolidation projects, field conditions must be assessed, including radio frequencies, channel availability, coverage, interoperability, towers and tower sites, redundancy, and more.
Regional Dispatch Center Connects Communities and Agencies
The Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center is staffed by civilian dispatchers combined with sworn Sergeants, who serve as supervisors. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office dispatches police and/or fire calls for the following communities and departments: Brookville, Butler Township, Clayton, Clay Township, Five Rivers Metro Parks, German Township, Germantown, Harrison Township, Jackson Township, Jefferson Township, Miamisburg, New Lebanon, Perry Township, Philipsburg, Riverside, Trotwood, Washington Township, and Verona Police Departments; Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office; Brookville, Butler Township, Clayton, Germantown, Harrison Township, Jefferson Township, Miamisburg, Philipsburg, Riverside, and Trotwood Fire Departments.
Through the 800 MHz radio system, the Communications Center and patrol personnel from the above listed agencies can communicate with a number of other government agencies including: City of Centerville Police, City of Dayton Police, City of Englewood, City of Huber Heights Police, City of Moraine Police, City of Vandalia Police, City of West Carrolton Police, City of West Carrollton Fire, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Greene County Sheriff’s Office, Miami County Sheriff’s Office, Montgomery County Juvenile Detention Center, Animal Shelter, Sanitary Department, Health Department, Engineer’s office and coroner/crime lab.
North East Ohio Mutual Aid Agreement Offers Preparedness Despite Shrinking Budgets
The cities of Beachwood, Euclid, Shaker Heights, South Euclid and University Heights have agreed to provide mutual aid in the event of a critical situation requiring additional police assistance and protection. The Memorandum of Understanding establishes the Eastside Departments Group Enforcement (EDGE) Teams and move forward sharing police personnel, services and equipment.
As municipalities across the region are faced with challenging fiscal environments, response to certain critical and unusual public safety or police situations can strain individual police department resources. The EDGE Teams formalize the sharing of those resources so that together, police departments can respond effectively and efficiently to any critical situation that may arise. It also will eliminate the need for costly, overlapping services and equipment that is rarely used by individual departments. The creation of the EDGE Teams is an example of the kind of thoughtful, proactive coordination necessary for police departments to remain highly prepared despite shrinking municipal budgets.
State Consolidation Driving Cost Savings
State of Ohio
The State Highway Patrol has nearly completed a money saving initiative to consolidate the patrol’s 56 dispatch posts into about 21 regional sites. Reports indicate this initiative has cut down on forced overtime. One consolidation in southern Ohio has brought dispatchers from Athens, Ironton, Gallipolis, Chillicothe and Portsmouth to the newly centralized office in Jackson.
“While reviewing the current structure of Ohio State Highway Patrol dispatching, it was determined we needed a more uniformed and consistent operation. Operational Effectiveness, Employee Impact, and Cost Efficiency were three primary factors considered when considering to restructure our dispatching. This allows us to provide a consistent level of service throughout the state.” Staff Lieutenant Tony Bradshaw
Ohio State Highway Patrol
City and County Merge 911 Operations
On March 30, 2010, the Delaware city and county 911 merged and began operations. The Delaware County Communications Center provides dispatching for fire, police, emergency medical services and the emergency management agency under one umbrella. Only the sheriff’s office still maintains its own dispatchers, who work alongside the consolidated dispatchers.
County Solves Communication Issues with Consolidation
Hendricks County, Indiana
Because of communication issues on-scene at fire incidents, Hendricks County adopted a new radio system and consolidated four dispatch centers into one. Having all the dispatchers in one building meant fewer dispatchers would be needed and personnel would be used more efficiently.
The county employed 38 call-takers, down from 49 prior to the consolidation. The center includes 13 workstations for dispatchers, and each station has six flat video screens that display information about incoming calls. The on-duty staff of 11 can handle multiple emergencies throughout the county. Consolidating into a single dispatch center also allowed the County to redirect some resources into technology. All 250 emergency vehicles in Hendricks County, including police cars, fire trucks and ambulances, are equipped with a laptop or other digital device, as well as a radio.
- The CALEA Public Safety Communications Accreditation Program
- Police officials debate 911 dispatch consolidation
- NYSTEC Dispatch Consolidation Planning