By a unanimous vote of all emergency services agencies that belong to Lincoln County 9-1-1 (Lincom), it was decided Wednesday that Lincom will be shut down later this year and that all dispatching operations will be moved to a large multi-county dispatch center based in Salem. After presenting what was described as “final” cost estimates for the switch, Willamette Valley Communications will take over operations July 1st, but from then, until probably the end of the year, Lincom’s operating center will be active but supervised by WVC personnel. By January 1st, all current Lincom employees, who are willing to move to the Salem area, will have jobs waiting for them so they can continue dispatching their ex-home turf back in Lincoln County.
It’s been a long, border-line torturous road for those who work for Lincom and for those who believe and demand that the person answering a 9-1-1 call be LOCAL; for who knows best the lay of the land than someone who lives in the area they serve. However, it’s been demonstrated repeatedly that with today’s high speed computers, surveillance satellite mapping and real time “on screen” tracking of emergency service vehicles and other resources on the ground, local knowledge is available to anyone who sits at any dispatch pod anywhere on the planet. Think military joystick pilots in Nevada controlling armored up drone aircraft in Afghanistan.
The physical aspects of a Lincoln County resident making a 9-1-1 call will change slightly. It will technically take less time for a 9-1-1 dispatcher in Salem to answer the phone. That’s because anyone in Lincoln County who dials 9-1-1, their call goes to a central routing system in Eugene and then back to Lincom dispatchers in Newport. Under WVC, a Lincoln County 9-1-1 call is sent to Eugene and then routed a few miles up the road to WVC in Salem. A lot shorter distance. A lot shorter distance for something to go wrong, break, be dug up or landslided over.
Those studying the now-final decision to make the move to WVC contend that 9-1-1 costs for Lincoln County will go down while higher quality computer assisted dispatching will dramatically improve operations. WVC also has a flexible labor base so that if calls for help go up in one area, they can shift dispatcher attention to meet the demand seamlessly, rather than having to “make due” with the number of dispatchers at hand. Callers won’t be put on hold nearly as often, including police officers, fire fighters and medical personnel in the field.
And then there is the issue of cost. The Lincom member agencies contend they will be spending less money for vastly superior 9-1-1 service. Not that Lincom dispatchers aren’t doing their best, but with a bigger labor backup system and vastly superior computerized operations, the Lincom dispatchers that decide to keep their jobs by moving to Salem, will enjoy better working conditions and be even more effective at their profession.
As for the two areas Lincom doesn’t dispatch for, Lincoln City and Toledo, the jury appears to still be out. Toledo City Manager Michelle Amberg and Police Chief David Enyeart told the Toledo City Council Wednesday night that they’re looking closely at the pro’s and con’s of Toledo contracting with WVC for dispatch services. Toledo already contracts with WVC for in-police car and in-fire vehicle computer information systems. When a Toledo 9-1-1 dispatcher directs police, fire or ambulance services, the commands and call locations come up on their computer screens at the same time. The WVC service also handles police and fire incident information that can be printed out anywhere. It Toledo went 100% with WVC, the contract cost could possibly save the city money according to Chief Enyeart. As for Lincoln City, Lincoln City Mayor Dick Anderson was in the audience during the Lincom discussions Wednesday and appeared interested in considering his community joining up with WVC as well. It’s already widely believed that WVC could save Lincoln City hundreds of thousands of dollars a year if it turned over all of its dispatch needs to WVC. Lincoln City is currently in the same service arrangement with WVC as Toledo. Lincom Board members expect both Toledo and Lincoln City to monitor Lincom’s transition to WVC very closely over the next eight months. With both cities budgets squeezed very tight by the recession, and with savings ranging in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by going with WVC, the issue may go from being a “mere option” for them to a financial necessity.