Newport Police Chief Mark Miranda has laid out very clearly how he feels about Lincom 9-1-1 dispatch services. In short, he wants them relocated to Salem where is based the Willamette Valley Communications Center – where 9-1-1 dispatch services are conducted for 17 emergency services agencies including fire and police across two counties. They’ve been doing it for 20 years.
Lincoln County has three 9-1-1 dispatch centers for a population of just 45,000 people. Some have referred to such a “wasteful duplication of services” arrangement as the reason the state is gravitating to reducing the state’s 49 dispatch centers down to 9 in the not too distant future.
As is usual for such discussions, it’s all very complicated with opinions frequently outracing the facts. Here’s Chief Miranda’s memo to the Newport City Council.
There have been a variety of issues and concerns that LinCom users have discussed for years. The fire districts, police agencies, and EMS providers are the customers of LinCom referred to as 9-1-1 Users. These users are concerned with losing their ability to provide our citizens with a high level of service; they believe their ability to continue to provide that high level of service has been compromised. This compromise has occurred due to a lack of long-term strategic planning, including the creation and maintenance of a capital improvement fund for essential equipment, software upgrades, and training.
Over the years several studies were funded and completed to evaluate dispatch services in Lincoln County. A few of these studies included examining the efficiencies and effectiveness of three dispatch centers consolidating into one center. All studies have recommended consolidation of the three dispatch centers based on a variety of findings. Now, 20 years later, no progress has been made; Lincoln County still has three dispatch centers. Another study was funded to specifically evaluate LinCom’s operation. Recommendations were made, initially supported, and then not funded at the level necessary to sustain the recommendations.
Consideration is now being given to contract with the Willamette Valley Communications Center (WVCC) in Salem to provide dispatch services to the current LinCom users. WVCC has been in business for more than 20 years. The Center provides dispatch services for 17 law enforcement, fire, and EMS agencies in Polk and Marion Counties. Police and fire representatives from Lincoln County have visited WVCC on a number of occasions. All visitors have reported a very professional atmosphere and delivery of customer service to citizens and users alike. WVCC is well-staffed; many employees are cross-trained to provide call-taker and dispatch services as needed. WVCC has a long-term strategic plan that includes staffing, training, equipment, software needs, and upgrades for the future.
Some people are unaware of how dispatch centers operate beyond calling the center, reporting an emergency or crime, and then receiving an answer or response from emergency responders. The following is a list of perceived problems that would arise should emergency dispatch services for Lincoln County be located in Salem:
There are several myths about “outsourcing” our 9-1-1 service:
Myth #1. Lincoln County 9-1-1 calls will be dependent upon long distance lines.
The truth. There will be no difference from what now occurs Lincoln County, 9-1-1 calls are routed to different points in the Willamette Valley, and then return to Newport where they are answered by LinCom. The only difference would be that, rather than the call being returned to Newport, it would be routed to, and answered in Salem.
Myth #2. Salem dispatchers will not have “local knowledge.”
The truth. This comment is misleading. It is the police officers, firefighters, and EMS responders, not dispatchers, who are responsible for knowing their respective geographic areas. In addition, GPS technology is very sophisticated and available to police officers in their cars. Dispatchers merely need to accurately relay the information they receive from the reporting citizen, and let the emergency responder proceed to the desired location. Salem dispatchers will gain “local knowledge” through experience, just as LinCom dispatchers did. Currently, LinCom provides dispatch services for the Willamette National Forest. While more than 60% of the Willamette National Forest is located in Lane County, significant portions are located in Linn, Marion, and Douglas Counties, with smaller portions located in Clackamas and Jefferson Counties. None of that forest is located in Lincoln County. How much “local knowledge” of those six counties do LinCom dispatchers possess in order to successfully dispatch USFS law enforcement throughout 2,618 square miles of land? It is the USFS law enforcement officers who know how to navigate through, and respond to, calls for service within their respective areas of that massive national forest.
Myth #3. Local law enforcement agencies will not be able to communicate with or know what other police agencies are doing.
The truth. Local law enforcement personnel can communicate with other police agencies in Lincoln County by switching to specific police agency radio frequencies. Newport PD (NPD) and the Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) have shared radio frequencies, Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), and a Records Management System (RMS) for years. However, these communication links have not included the Toledo (TPD) and Lincoln City Police Departments (LCPD). LCPD and TPD currently contract with WVCC for CAD and RMS services. They are very pleased with the services they receive from WVCC. While both LCPD and TPD continue to answer 9-1-1 calls and dispatch their own respective responders, the systems they utilize are owned, operated, and maintained by WVCC. Lincoln City and Toledo officers can view each other’s dispatch calls on their patrol car Mobile Data Computers (MDCs). They cannot currently view NPD or LCSO dispatch calls. If NPD and LCSO contracted with WVCC, all four police agencies would be able to share CAD and RMS, and view each other’s dispatch calls on their MDCs. The shared viewing would provide significant advantages to law enforcement in Lincoln County.
Preliminary cost estimates indicate that the cost for WVCC services will be lower than what the City is currently paying LinCom. The savings in FY12/13 will likely be minimal due to transition costs and how the “LinCom consortium” distributes costs, however the savings in FY13/14 and beyond is estimated to be $125,000 per year. Keep in mind that cost alone should not be the main factor in moving to WVCC. The quality of service will improve. Officers and firefighters will not hear what they so very often hear when calling LinCom on the radio: “Stand-by, I’m on a 9-1-1 phone call.” WVCC will be able to add dispatchers at a moment’s notice without having to call someone in during a critical incident.
Most impressively, WVCC is always planning for the future. They are prepared to change software systems, computer systems, and phone systems on a scheduled basis. Plus, they have saved the funds to finance the changes so there is no panic looking for money needed for an imminent system change.
We are rapidly approaching a time when a police officer or firefighter will call on the radio for LinCom, but there will be no response because of a LinCom system failure. I do not want to see our officers, firefighters, and citizens endangered because of a suddenly inoperative dispatch system. I see no way in which LinCom can be salvaged, either in the short- or long-term.
Fire Chief Phil Paige and I both endorse the move of dispatch services to WVCC. There is still a lot of work to do this move. We must plan a back-up dispatch service in the event of a catastrophic disaster. I am confident that, with the involvement of WVCC, the citizens of Newport will be better served.