It’s Official: Lincoln County officials signed on the dotted line. July 1st, Lincom fades. WVCC takes over 9-1-1.
Correction: Number of dispatch centers in Oregon, 48.
After what can only be described as a tough and, for some, gut-wrenching process, Lincoln County’s biggest 9-1-1 emergency system is being taken over by the Willamette Valley Communications Center. The primary reasons that the county, Newport and most fire district officials gave their final approval Wednesday are lower costs and more up to date technology. Also hanging over their heads is what appears to be an unstoppable trend at the state level to reduce the number of individual dispatch centers around the state from 48 down to nine. It’s a well established trend across the country.
Lincom users were facing big costs for replacing equipment as well as for the ever rising cost of labor. It was also acknowledged that Lincom users can make their tax dollars go a lot farther if they join a larger organization like WVCC which has levels of technology and labor efficiency that Lincom could never hope to have due Lincoln County’s low population and therefore lower revenue base. As of July 1st, WVCC will take over Lincom and begin the technological upgrade that will offer local police, fire and ambulance services a level of performance unseen on the coast.
To be fair, Lincom workers are dedicated, hard working call-takers and dispatchers. But with a limited level of equipment and a lack of depth in human resources, their jobs were made even more difficult to carry out. Any one who owns a police scanner “gets it” about how hard ANY dispatcher works and of the sometimes unbelievable pressures they have to operate under.
Lincom board member Ray Woodruff, who helped lead the push to have WVCC take over Lincom, said all Lincom workers have signed up to become WVCC workers effective July 1st. Nobody is losing their job. Woodruff added that come July 1st, 9-1-1 dispatching will continue at its current location until December, which, by then, all the transitional electronics will be in place. After that all former Lincom workers will be expected to move to the Salem..
Again, the bottom line is savings to the taxpayers while getting much higher dispatching performance. Limited government budgets means consolidating how emergency services are organized and delivered. Economies of scale absolutely rule the discussion. Small dispatch centers, which must pay prevailing wages and buy their own equipment, with fewer taxpayers supporting them, are increasingly at a service level disadvantage. The state certainly knows that. State officials long ago mandated that Oregon State Police operations be dispatched out of only TWO dispatch centers – for the whole state. State lawmakers are expected to mandate that Oregon’s 48 9-1-1 centers be shrunk down to NINE. It’s all prescribed in a big consultant’s report that the state legislature will be talking about during the next session.
While the big change-over plays out between July 1st and December, Toledo and Lincoln City, which operate their own, even smaller, dispatch centers are expected to monitor these developments very closely. According to Woodruff and other Lincom board members, both cities could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in dispatch costs if they too joined WVCC. Lincoln City has long agreed with consolidation but not before certain upgrades are made to the system. Those upgrades are now nearly in place. As of late Toledo has been reluctant to consider consolidating with WVCC, sticking to a city philosophy that the town is pretty much self-sufficient and they like the fact that dispatchers allows the police department to be open (technically) if someone in trouble bangs on the front door in need of help. The dispatcher inside can provide that help. However, in this day and age when just about everybody has a cell phone, or access to one, it’s no longer necessary to run downtown to the police station for assistance.
Labor costs, constant upgrades for technology and tighter budgets; all point to massive consolidation of 9-1-1 services nationwide and locally. When Oregon lawmakers finish their review of an analysis produced by a nationally ranked firm on such matters, they are expected to re-direct state subsidies away from all those hundreds of 9-1-1 centers around the state and into a regional system with just nine 9-1-1 centers. WVCC will likely be one of the nine. And in so doing it will make local 9-1-1 systems largely unaffordable for the smaller towns they now operate in.
As for the loss of “local knowledge” by dispatchers who will be moving to Salem, anyone who listens to police and fire scanners for a living will tell you that it’s the police officers, sheriff’s deputies and fire fighters in the field that know the terrain. They drive it everyday. When you give emergency responders the address or GPS location of a 9-1-1 call, they know exactly where they are going and the fastest way to get there. With the level of technology being offered by WVCC, it’ll get even better. WVCC will enable our emergency responders to be tracked and managed to such a high level of accuracy that those in the field won’t have to ask each other where the other is in order to figure things out. The dispatcher will simply look at a screen, and it’s all there. WVCC dispatchers can literally watch first responders move across the maps on their screens.
It’s a brave new world. And it’s finally arriving in Lincoln County. And best of all, our government leaders say we can afford it and that the state’s march toward 9-1-1 consolidation would have made us do it eventually, anyway.