Sudbury public safety officials and Town administration are working to establish a combined Police and Fire Dispatch in the Police Station prior to June 30, 2012 in order to comply with new state regulations. Currently Sudbury has two separate dispatch operations – one at the Police Station, the other at the Fire Headquarters, so this will involve moving the Fire Department dispatch operation from Fire Headquarters and putting it next to and becoming a part of a combined dispatch operation in the Police Station. Following are the important points to further explain this effort.
Sudbury public safety officials have acknowledged for some time current dispatch services could be more efficiently delivered if they were combined in one building and run jointly. In 2007 an article to build a new police headquarters was approved by Town Meeting which would have included the creation of a joint dispatch center in order to improve efficiency as well as provide enhanced services to the residents of Sudbury. Sudbury voters did not approve the debt exemption to fund the proposed police station, and as a result the current dispatch operations remain in two separate buildings.
In 2010, the Sudbury Fire Chief, Police Chief and Town Manager successfully obtained a grant for $150,000 to study the feasibility of creating a Regional combined dispatch center, in cooperation with seven surrounding communities. That study is ongoing, and the status will be covered in a separate report to you.
For these reasons, Sudbury had not yet moved to creating a combined emergency dispatch in the existing Police Station. New regulations now mandate that Sudbury must provide an enhanced level of emergency dispatch known as Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD). To meet these regulations, we are moving forward with creating a combined emergency dispatch center in the existing Sudbury Police Station.
NEW REGULATIONS APPROVED:
As of July 1, 2012, as required by law, Sudbury Public Safety Dispatch must have a certified Emergency Medical Dispatch program in place. This requirement was established by the State 911 department in 560 CMR 5.00that took effect July 1, 2011which in part reads:
“By July 1, 2012, and thereafter, each primary PSAP, regional PSAP, and RECC shall either: 1) provide EMD through certified emergency medical dispatchers at such PSAP or RECC; or 2) arrange for EMD to be provided through a certified EMD resource.”
Additionally, this CMR establishes further training/certification requirements for dispatch personnel as well as limits the number of times a call may be transferred during an emergency 911 situation (please refer to 560 CMR 5.00). Realistically, the requirement to provide EMD means that towns such as Sudbury should have two dispatchers working side by side, one to dispatch equipment and personnel, the other to provide emergency medical information to the caller. The CMR does indicate that EMD can be accomplished with one dispatcher, but given the complexities of various emergency scenarios, it is not recommended by the State 911 Department nor do we feel it is a “SAFE” option to provide. During such an emergency situation units must be dispatched, radios monitored and potentially other calls, both emergency and business, may need to be answered. These obstacles are the reason we do not currently provide Emergency Medical Dispatch service.
RESPONSE TO NEW REGULATIONS:
In light of this recent phenomenon both police and fire officials and the Town Manager met to determine the best avenue to provide EMD as efficiently as possible for the community, while recognizing that the question of the permanent location of dispatch operations for Sudbury is still being investigated. After evaluating the alternatives and reviewing all the pros and cons of each alternative, both public safety Chiefs and their staff feel it would best serve the needs of the citizens by establishing a joint dispatch operation at the current police facility for a short term basis and have recommended this to the Town Manager, who has agreed with the recommendation and approved moving forward with steps to implement this approach.
BENEFITS OF THIS APPROACH TO EMD:
There are a number of benefits to the community and the public safety departments from pursuing this short term approach to providing EMD in Sudbury. They include:
- Allows for one dispatcher to focus on an EMD call, while the other dispatcher is assigning necessary personnel, and continues monitoring of radios/phones/911. Each dispatcher can give his/her full attention to one critical task in a medical emergency.
- Provides for a more efficient call path, minimizing the transfer of medical emergency calls, which requires a restatement of medical concerns from 2 or 3 times to 1 or 2 times depending on how the call is received, (land line 911 or cell phone 911 respectively). It is important to note that 911 calls made from cell phones go first to the State Police and then have to be transferred to local police stations. In reviewing information provided by the State 911 Department on their website approximately 64% of all 911 calls are made from cell phones state wide and locally approximately 35% are cellular in nature. When these calls are transferred to local dispatchers it leaves only 2 transfers left out of the 3 allowed by law.
- Provides for additional dispatching capability with two dispatchers working jointly. For example, during a fire scenario only, the two dispatchers on duty can share the workload versus one performing the duties solo.
- Puts more firefighters/police officers on the street versus filling in for vacant dispatcher shifts.
- Recognizes and provides for highly qualified candidate in dispatch operations, which has evolved into a more professional specialty area, best performed by staff that continually perform the required duties with more efficiency than police officers/firefighters who do so sporadically.
- With ever increasing training/technological developments in this field, it reduces the number of personnel who need to be trained.
- Replaces aging equipment that has been failing at the police department. The Town has delayed replacement of these consoles as we worked to determine the best long term dispatch outcomes. The units being acquired as part of this will be evaluated for their ability to be relocated once a longer term decision is made.
- By locating the combined dispatch in the Police Station, the dispatchers can perform the other functions they are responsible for in the Police Station, particularly maintaining appropriate lockup monitoring and performing the requirements of CHSB as the keeper of records regarding Criminal Offender Record Information (C.O.R.I.).
CHALLENGES AND REQUIREMENTS OF THIS APPROACH TO EMD:
Implementing this change will come with significant costs to Sudbury. They include:
Increased financial commitment.
- There will be costs for obtaining, relocating and installing necessary dispatch equipment and software. Preliminary estimates are that these items could be as high as $130,000 or more. Quotes are being obtained at this time, and our experience is that the final costs often exceed the quotes as more information is revealed once a more intensive effort is made to finalize selection and installation, and given laws for purchasing and outside vendors and labor. The Police Chief did submit a capital request for $99,000 last year to obtain new consoles, which was ultimately withdrawn given all the uncertainty in this area of new regulations and final location of the dispatch function.
- There will likely be increased and ongoing expenditures for the salary and benefits for additional dispatch personnel. We currently do not have enough police/fire dispatchers in order to fully staff two positions 24/7. We are evaluating current staffing in order to determine and make recommendations on how to cover the additional hours this will require. This will be an FY13 expense and will be built into the FY13 public safety budgets.
- This will create an issue of how best to provide reception and phone coverage for fire HQ, as the fire dispatchers currently perform that function.
We will close this report to you by noting this is NOT a long term solution. We feel in order to meet the requirements and provide the best service by the June 30, 2012 date there is no other choice but to shoehorn the dispatch personnel/equipment into the police station for the short term. But this will allow for additional time to assess what long term solutions may be viable, whether it is includes regional dispatch or a joint facility within a new/renovated police station.
We will also note our current facility has been deemed an inadequate location by the consultant conducting the regional dispatch viability.
We fully comprehend we are recommending a short term solution only, but given the impending requirement under 560 CMR 5.00, we have no choice but to move forward with a solution in the spirit of public safety, compliance and customer service.