Group studying central dispatch concept hears Allen County experience

By Allen Smith
Independence Daily Reporter – March 6, 2014
Submitted by Newz Group Clipping Service – March 31, 2014

The director of Allen County’s central dispatch department told a group of Montgomery County law enforcement and emergency services personnel to put aside their differences and do what’s best for the citizens. Meanwhile, a 911 liaison representing the State of Kansas told the group not to expect to save any money by consolidating dispatch services.

Angela Murphy, director of Allen County’s 911 Central Dispatch Center in Iola, during a meeting Wednesday in the Montgomery County Judicial Center told officials representing Independence, Coffeyville, Caney, Cherryvale and the Montgomery County Commission, “I’m a straight shooter, so here I go. Put your animosity aside and do what’s best for the citizens of your county.”

Because not all agencies in Montgomery County dispatch police, ambulance and fire, there are times when an emergency call is rolled over several times.

“With our system, a call may get rolled over five times before the police, ambulance and fire departments are dispatched to a scene,” said Coffeyville Chief of Police Tony Celeste.

Murphy was appalled.

“That is entirely unacceptable,” Murphy said. “With a central dispatch system every agency that needs to respond to a scene is dispatched immediately. You don’t have precious seconds ticking away rolling a call from one agency to another to dispatch police, fire and ambulance.”

Murphy said Allen County decided to go with central dispatching four years ago and county officials haven’t looked back since.

“Frankly, we are all glad we went to 911 central dispatch,” Murphy said. “I had a county commissioner who was dead set against it, but he is now a major proponent of the change.”

Now he says the transition was easy once Allen County decided it was necessary to increase funding from $186,000 to $550,000.

“My sheriff and police chief in Iola both supported the change to central dispatch,” Murphy said. “In fact, the sheriff was the driving force, and the police chief had no objections.”

Murphy said the Allen County 911 Dispatch Center is a county operated department with a $550,000 per year budget.

“You guys talk about 911 funds. I get $87,000 a year from our 911 fund paid by our residents on their phones. It helps, but it’s really minimal when it comes down to the big picture,” Murphy said. “I have an advisory board that I depend on a lot. I bounce a lot of things off my advisory board. We discuss lots of issues, but the county pays our expenses. I don’t go to my advisory board concerning funds.”

She also said the smaller cities in Allen County do not pay a fee to the county for dispatching services.

Murphy said the taxes on Allen County citizens did not increase when they went to a consolidate dispatching system.

“We did not increase our taxes,” Murphy said. “We bought a building to house our facility. We spent $600,000 on our transition.”

She said the dispatching facility went from “literally a closet in the police department in Iola, to a facility the county purchased.”

She encouraged the group to put their heads together and decide how to proceed.

“I sensed a lot of animosity there Wednesday afternoon. That needs to stop and either decide to do it or not,” Murphy said.

Scott Ekberg, the 911 liaison for the 911 Coordinating Council, said officials studying the plan should not expect to save any money, and he outlined how the Next Generation 911 system, set to be implemented later this year, is designed to operate.

“You can’t look at consolidating 911 dispatch systems as a way to save money,” Ekberg said. “You should evaluate whether consolidation is right for you all and can it provide services to your taxpayers.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Leon Rau has hoped that by consolidating 911 dispatch services money could be saved.

“Next Generation 911 is designed to pick up a 911 emergency call from a cell phone and send it to the closest Personal Safety Access Point,” Ekberg said.

There are three PSAPs in Montgomery County–Independence, Coffeyville and Caney. There are 117 in the state of Kansas.

Currently, 911 emergency cell phone calls go to the PSAP at the Independence Police Department, requiring dispatchers there to roll over a call to Coffeyville or Caney if it originates there.

Land line phones go to the closest PSAP for dispatching.

The City of Independence receives approximately $93,000 per year in 911 funds, while Coffeyville receives approximately $90,000 per year from the land line phones.

Cherryvale and Caney get no 911 funds.

Ekberg said the state is working to create a seamless border map for the State of Kansas as part of the Next Generation 911 process.

“This GIS system is being paid for by the state. There is no costs to the cities,” Ekberg said. “Acquiring this statewide data base is much more cost effective on an individual county basis. We can do the entire state at a cost of $1.8 million.”

He said counties will sign up for a three year subscription to the data base.

“At the end of three years the system will be updated, and counties will renew their subscriptions for another three years,” Ekberg said.

“The Next Generation 911 capabilities are great, but the responsibilities and pressure it will put on the PSAPs will be tremendous,” Ekberg said.

For the group’s next meeting on March 19, officials would bring figures such as call volume and other information and see if a cost to implement central dispatching is even feasible in Montgomery County.

“Hearing what we heard today, think that’s what we should do, starting putting figures together to determine the feasibility,” Independence Police Chief Harry Smith said.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster