9-1-1 call centers may merge

Published 8:52 am Tuesday, July 19, 2011

AHOSKIE – Change is good….especially when it better serves a two-fold purpose.

At their recent meeting, members of the Ahoskie Town Council voted unanimously to support the consolidation of emergency 9-1-1 dispatch in Hertford County.

Currently, 9-1-1 call centers are located at the Ahoskie Police Department, Murfreesboro Police Department and Hertford County Sheriff’s Office in Winton.

According to a directive from the North Carolina 9-1-1 Board, each county should operate a single primary public safety call center. Those centers need to operate around the clock with two dispatchers and one supervisor per shift. It is also required for each county to appoint a 9-1-1 Operations Director and to have a board of directors to oversee the entire operation.

All of these requirements are to be in place by June of next year.

“We have met to see how to resolve what we need to do prior to June 2012,” Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh told the town council. “We may need to consolidate 9-1-1 in the county, or you may decide our 9-1-1 communications center here in Ahoskie remain as it currently operates.”

Involved in a recent countywide meeting were Fitzhugh, Ahoskie Fire Department Chief Ken Dilday, Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan, Murfreesboro Police Chief Darrell Rowe, Hertford County Manager Loria Williams and Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond.

“If we remain a 9-1-1 center in Ahoskie, and we prepared our communications dispatch room at our new building to allow for two dispatchers, we will have to add four more dispatchers. That will add more salaries and benefits as well as add more equipment to meet the requirements of the state 9-1-1 board. Also, we would have to provide more training,” Fitzhugh stressed.

Fitzhugh reminded the council that the Ahoskie Police Department does not currently dispatch rescue; if a rescue call arrives at the local police department, it is transferred to the Hertford County Sheriff’s Department to handle.

“That also applies to the fire department, so if we do decide to operate a 9-1-1 call center here in Ahoskie, we would add rescue and fire calls and we’re not currently trained to handle that,” Fitzhugh noted. “That adds to the costs of maintaining a call center here in Ahoskie.”

Fitzhugh said if the town opts to go to countywide 9-1-1 communications center, the cost of building such a facility would be covered with 9-1-1 fund money (a monthly surcharge added to each telephone number, both land line or cell).

Salaries of the dispatchers are not covered by the 9-1-1 fund, but that financial source will cover the salary of a 9-1-1 Center Director for the first year.

“If we do combine into a countywide system, we can use our current dispatchers,” Fitzhugh noted. “We have four, Murfreesboro has four and the sheriff’s office has four. Each shift would have a supervisor.”

Additionally, each town has the opportunity to appoint an individual to the county’s 9-1-1 center board of directors.

“The state wants to drive every county to have one 9-1-1 center,” Hammond said. “They are trying to get away with multiple centers per county, like we have here in Hertford County. If it goes into one 9-1-1 Center, everything is paid for from the 9-1-1 fund with the exception of personnel. Those salaries would be split among Ahoskie, Murfreesboro and Winton, and we each can use our existing staff, the only difference would be that they would work under the same roof.

“Our only other option is to continue as we are with our own 9-1-1 center,” Hammond continued. “But, in doing so, we’ll have to hire another dispatcher.”

Hammond said it appeared to him that Murfreesboro and Hertford County were leaning towards having one center.

“When I first learned of an effort to have a centralized center, I wasn’t sold on the idea,” Hammond stated. “But the more I’ve studied this, the more sense it makes, the more cohesive this plan becomes in my mind. It looks like having one center is the way to go.”

Hammond said this issue was being brought before the council to weigh their opinion on which direction the town should take.

“We’ll have to lean on ya’ll, Tony, Chief Fitzhugh and Chief Dilday, on this issue,” Town Councilman O.S. “Buck” Suiter said. “From listening to what you’ve said today, it seems ya’ll have a good understanding of what we need to do.”

“It sounds reasonable to me that we need to consolidate the system,” Councilman Malcolm Copeland said.

“I’ve looked at this both ways as my greatest concern was my staff,” Fitzhugh said. “I didn’t want to see them lose their jobs, but once I learned that our staff could carry over to a central dispatch center, the more I felt at ease over this.”

Another reason behind bringing this issue to the council’s attention now is due to the time constraints. Fitzhugh said a new countywide dispatch center needs to be operational by July 1, 2012.

On a motion from Copeland and a second from Suiter, the council approved the State Board 9-1-1 update and agreed to having one 9-1-1 emergency dispatch center in the county.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal