Directors of dispatch centers in other counties tout the benefits of combining multiple 911 operations.
The Missourian spoke with directors of dispatch centers in Greene County and Jasper County to see what their views are on consolidating communication centers.
Combining centers can save money and improve service, but each county is different in terms of whether consolidation is the best route, they said.
Franklin County has four communication centers, but some local officials seem reluctant to consolidate even though other areas have seen success with the effort.
“Consolidation is often looked at as streamlining the process, and quite frankly with resources these days and budgets, a lot of dispatch centers are being merged and consolidated across the country,” said Zim Schwartze, director of the Springfield-Greene County 911 Emergency Communications Department. “So this is quite a trend because of our economy right now and because of the dollars that are available to dispatch centers.”
Springfield and Greene County combined their dispatch centers around 2002, and the town of Republic recently joined the center.
Greene County’s population is about 280,000, which is larger than Franklin County, which is about 101,000.
Likewise, Jasper County, which is also larger than Franklin County, is currently in the process of consolidating its dispatch center with the city of Joplin.
Save Taxpayer Money
Consolidating centers can save money, said April Tarrant, executive director of Jasper County Emergency Services.
“On a cost side, it’s more beneficial than running two facilities and paying for maintenance and everything for two facilities in my opinion,” she said.
Schwartze agreed that money can be saved through consolidation, saying, “You’re not duplicating any type of services.”
Consolidation can also save equipment costs by paying one vendor for maintenance, said Tarrant, who is the legislative committee chairwoman of the Missouri Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association.
But initially, consolidation can cost money due to moving data from one server to another. The conversion of the computer-aided dispatch system for the consolidation in Jasper County is estimated to cost $130,000, Tarrant noted.
Despite the initial costs, Tarrant expects money will ultimately be saved.
The Jasper County/Joplin consolidation will not require a new facility because the county’s existing building can be used, she said.
Most importantly, consolidation can create a better service for the citizens, Tarrant said.
When there are multiple centers, 911 calls made on cellphones can go to the wrong dispatch facility, she said. This means the dispatcher has to transfer the call to the correct facility, which can waste valuable time in an emergency, Tarrant noted.
“What a nightmare for that citizen, especially if they are in dire straits and have some type of emergency going on,” she said.
Schwartze agreed that having one dispatch center can improve service.
“When you have everyone in the same location being able to talk to each other better, being able to handle incidents together better, it does help with the actual overall calls and the service we provide to citizens and the user agencies we serve,” she said.
Tarrant said she did the feasibility study for the Jasper County/Joplin consolidation and that it was an “eye opener.”
It showed, “We could really do a lot better than what we’re doing.”
It was not that the centers were doing a bad job but, “When we’re transferring calls back and forth to one another we could just be doing so much better.”
Consolidation does not necessarily mean people will lose their jobs, Tarrant said.
Asked if staff levels could be reduced after the consolidation in Jasper County, she said, “We probably won’t initially, but through attrition I would say that we’ll find that we probably won’t need as many people. That doesn’t mean we’ll ever let anybody go initially at all. And it doesn’t mean that we’ll let anybody go as we move on.”
Some staffing issues in a consolidation could be addressed through scheduling, she said.
When the staff at two centers are combined, there are more employees to cover each other when a dispatcher is absent. This can hold down overtime costs and prevent employee burnout, she said.
However, some administrative functions, such as human resources and payroll, could be combined.
“It might not be necessary for us to take all that staffing over there for the administrative side because they already have those positions filled,” she said.
Currently, in Franklin County, each of the four centers has its own director or supervisor.
Sometimes politics can get in the way of consolidation, Tarrant said.
Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said he does not think consolidation will happen voluntarily here because each area likes its own “little kingdom.”
Tarrant said she has heard that perspective before.
“I have heard that from other 911 centers, and I’ve heard that from people who are trying to consolidate but it’s not happening,” she said.
In Jasper County and Joplin there has been a cooperative effort, but there are still some naysayers.
“I hate to see it when agencies don’t want to consolidate, but there is a lot more issues behind closed doors than we know,” Tarrant said.
Consolidation can be a “scary thing,” Tarrant noted, adding that another option is to “cross-train” personnel in the different facilities so they can work between the various agencies. Franklin County’s four 911 dispatch centers are at the sheriff’s office and at the cities of Washington, Sullivan and Pacific.