911 System Gets Good Marks for Performance; Concerns Over Lack of Reporting Structure

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Published on January 14 2014 9:28 pm
Last Updated on January 15 2014 1:03 pm
Written by Greg Sapp

The Effingham County 911 system got good marks for its performance in an efficiency study, but there were questions over the lack of a chain of command.

Lisa Weinthal of Intertech Associates, the firm that studied the effiiciencies of the 911 system, said there is tremendous collaboration between the city and county dispatching centers.  Weinthal said the local legislation directs that the centers operate as one, but commended those in charge for the collaboration.

On the down side, Weinthal notes the cooperation now seen involves the personalities in leadership at the centers and said if faces change, the cooperation could disappear.  She recommends putting in place intergovernmental agreements and documented procedural agreements.  She said 911 needs a "single source of authority" in place and said emergencies often identify where there are gaps in command and decision-making if those agreements aren't in place.  She thinks there should be one 911 person to oversee both dispatching points.

Weinthal said the 911 technologies and systems are excellent and said the staffing is excellent.  She said the telecommunicators, though, offer more service than is usual toward first responders from various emergency services agencies.  She hinted that if the 911 dispatchers were separated from city and county dispatchers it could increase efficiencies, and suggested working toward all of the telecommunicators moving into a single department under a common labor agreement rather than working some of the time for 911 and some of the time handling city or county calls and 911 calls simultaneously.

Weinthal acknowledged that 911's volume of calls in Effingham County might not be sufficient to justify the expense of a separate group of 911 dispatchers.

Weinthal had concerns about the physical location of the County 911 dispatching point in the heart of the county jail and wished it could be more segregated from the usual goings-on at the jail.

Also at the 911 meeting, there was agreement to discontinue the 800 megahertz frequency as of May 1, but continuing maintenance on consoles and related equipment.  911 board member and Effingham Fire Chief Joe Holomy said emergency medical services has to decide where it wants to go as far as communications, but said he can't justify putting a large sum into the 800 system.

There was also a decision that once 800 goes kaput, the City and County will take steps to apply for the frequencies no longer needed.

The Board also heard that the first month's bill for Starcom compatible radios for the Sheriff's Department totaled just over $1,800, meaning the annual cost for the City and County should be just about the estimated cost of $32,000 to $34,000.