LISBON — The merger of 911 call centers could take about four years, according to a study by Mission Critical Partners that presented it Thursday to the Columbiana County 911 Emergency Services Committee.
MCP’s Steve Haberman and Brian Melcer presented the findings of the study they conducted on the current system at the quarterly 911 ESC meeting, held via video conference Thursday due to weather with a dozen members of the committee present.
The study suggests the county should proceed with amalgamating the county’s five 911 dispatch centers – currently operated at the County Sheriff’s Office, Columbiana, East Liverpool, East Palestine and Salem. The cost of operating the new common 911 location would be approximately $2 million.
Some of the reasons Haberman gives for the need to merge 911 include the fact that dispatchers are currently working alone and without supervision or backup when there is an emergency at many of the 911 locations. Some of the dispatchers are supposed to answer the phone , while helping people walk to the window, dispatching street service, and monitoring cameras when someone is in a holding cell. Additionally, it was noted that there are challenges with training, staff turnover of around 25% and some departments struggle to make salaries competitive to retain their employees.
The 911 merger would allow for a supervisor, who could help fill in an emergency and allow more employees to be available when the number of dispatchers in the pool drops during holidays or when employees need to be replaced. At the start of the meeting, a minute’s silence was observed for two dispatchers who had died since the previous meeting in November – Rita Lohman, from the Sheriff’s Office, and Andrea Hoffman, a dispatcher from East Liverpool.
The merger would reduce the number of 911 calls that need to be transferred after they currently end up at the wrong call center and should reduce response times to those calls.
There are a few downsides. Currently, there is no suitable location to house the 911 call center without major expansion or renovations. Creating a new location would give dispatchers more space to eventually have a kitchen and break room.
The study shows that it could take one or two years to develop a plan and that the group would meet with an architect to design the space in two or three years. Commissioner Tim Weigle said he was currently working on county plans to construct a building of around 23,000 square feet, primarily as additional storage space for the county archives in Lisbon and that there could be 6,000 square feet available for shipping space.
Concerns have been expressed that the plans presented by MCP do not include plans to merge departmental radios on the same frequencies. Currently there are 13 law enforcement agencies and 14 fire departments and many use separate frequencies.
Weigle said it might be possible to work with the local company developing internet with towers in the area to also help with the radio situation, which makes some parts of the county difficult for communications.
The committee also continues to monitor Ohio House Bill 445, which currently charges 25 cents per cell phone bill, which is not enough to help local counties and the state approve 911 services.
In other subjects:
– Brian Rutledge, deputy director of the Emergency Management Agency, said the upgrade of text messaging equipment to 911 should start being installed in the coming days.
– EMA director Peggy Clark said they continue to monitor the national suicide prevention hotline 988, which is due to launch in July and how it will work in conjunction with 911 dispatchers and first responders needed to get help from that person.
– Clark said she eventually wants to expand a program Salem police have started with someone trained to provide assistance to people who go out with the police on certain calls.
Police Chief JT Panezott said it was a mental health and recovery program and involved someone, who has earned the respect and trust of police officers in the department, and knows experience some of the difficulties encountered by people involved in drug addiction. . Panezott said he was totally against sending social workers to the field.
— The next meeting of ESC 911 is scheduled for May 5.