In a meeting that was barely 12 hours behind a similar one in Lincoln City, the Lincom 9-1-1 Board has, like the Lincoln City Council, decided to reach out to communities county-wide to see if there is any interest in consolidating Lincoln County’s three 9-1-1 dispatch centers located in Lincoln City, Newport and Toledo.
There has been talk for years among city and county government officials, law enforcement and fire departments about consolidation which could save Lincoln County taxpayers anywhere from an estimated $200,000 to over $1 million dollars a year – up to $350,000 a year for Lincoln City alone depending on how you look at the numbers and how the final dispatch arrangement is set up.
Newport City Manager Jim Voetberg told News Lincoln County that no one seemed to know whether other cities or communities would embrace consolidation or whether the savings would be spread evenly across the county. They, like Lincoln City, believe that no consolidation plan would have a a ghost of a chance of succeeding without the full support of law enforcement and the area’s rural fire departments.
As News Lincoln County reported to you last evening, there are numerous advantages and disadvantages to a centralized 9-1-1 system. The advantages are that consolidation reduces personnel and other costs. It also avoids duplication of costly communications equipment and software to run and maintain it. It also places all incidental data on one set of screens that are available to all dispatchers instantaneously. So, if an ambulance is looking for a particular address on a rural road that is not visible from the street, that residence “file name” in the 9-1-1 system would automatically instruct the dispatcher to say something like “It’s the 3rd driveway on the right with the bright blue mailbox.” Such information would be available 24-7, not just when a particularly knowledgeable dispatcher happens to be on duty. With the predicted large savings produced by consolidation, an argument could be made to use some of those savings to erect more radio repeater sites around the county thereby eliminating many notorious radio “dead spots” which puts law enforcement and fire fighters at risk every day.
Another advantage is in the way Lincoln County’s overall law enforcement and courts handle cases, from the writing of a traffic ticket to an arrest for a serious crime. Any worker in the chain of information from the street, to the District Attorney’s office, to the judge will tell you, there is enormous paperwork involved in every step of the process from allegation to the slamming of a prison door. And paperwork requires lots of labor. On top of that, at every step there is an opportunity to lose documents, misfile documents or transpose or confuse information on documents. One of the biggest advantages of a consolidated dispatch system is making much of this “paper trail” unnecessary. It’s all in a computer and the information is passed instantly from the street and the jail to the district attorney and to the courts. Yes, yes, we know that computers aren’t perfect but rest assured that there are computer systems with several redundant back-up systems to ensure that if one computer goes down, the data is kept safely “off site” in an unpublicized location that preserves critical information. Another advantage is the computer handling of information speeds up the legal system so cases that can be handled quickly and at lower cost are, indeed, handled that way. That also saves labor costs. Just about anyone can imagine other time and labor saving advantages without ever having been in a DA’s office.
The disadvantages of a consolidated system are along more technical lines. A centralized system is going to have a single access fiber optic line to the outside world. If that’s cut, or the power goes out or a fire forces the evacuation of the dispatch center, you have a big fat problem. However, with enough of what are called “back haul” capabilities, alternative lines or portable microwave systems could be installed that may not be as fast, but would work well enough in an emergency like a wind storm, earthquake or wildland fire.
Other disadvantages could include political infighting, lack of transparency or trust among those governing the center. Near Olympian efforts would have to be made to ensure dispatch services are applied fairly and reasonably.
Before the Lincoln City city council adjourned their discussions on the subject Monday night, they suggested any consolidation should involve a consultant with extensive knowledge of the intricacies of dispatch consolidations. We’ll see if that’s an approach the other cities and the county will support.
Then there is always the question of: “How do we fund such an integrated system that is sure to cost tall dollars.” Options include something similar to what Lincoln County, Newport and a number of fire departments use today. A simple fee schedule based on a formula. Another option could be a county wide 9-1-1 service tax or fee that would be used for no other purpose, or a specially targeted county-wide property tax that would be used exclusively for the service. Cities and the county could also fund the operation out of their general funds. Other options are out there as well.
So with Lincom reaching out to the community, and Lincoln City doing the same thing, it’s a sure bet everybody might meet in the middle eventually to talk about consolidation, and hopefully with enough hired expertise to guide the discussions on how to improve 9-1-1 service while forcing down costs.
However, as is common in such consolidation of emergency service operations, the process may take a while.Share on Facebook