Butler Co. Emergency Operations Center.
As more local communities merge their emergency services, residents may be wondering who will pick up when they call 911. However, all those changes mean people will have more means to call for help.
HAMILTON, Ohio – As Hamilton and Butler County formalize their merge of dispatch services this week, the prospect for the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to do the same is not likely.
In this time of leaner government, the topic of sharing services across jurisdictional lines has been in discussion for the last decade. For the city and county to consolidate dispatch services appears to be a logistical maze too tangled to unwind. What’s in the works, though, is the exploration of “shared services,” said Hamilton County Assistant Administrator Jeff Aluotto.
Meaning, in the event the city or county communication centers fail, they’ll be able to back each other up.
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“There are some that think it would be a great thing to do (merge communication centers) because it would save money and resources,” Aluotto said. “There are others that say the county serves a population of roughly 300,000 and so does the city and that’s probably as big as you want to get.”
Aluotto said there are critics that believe if there is only one communication center, there is no way to back up a center of that size if it fails. The cost of operating each communication center is not cheap. It will cost the city $10.3 million to fund its center and $9.6 million for the county in 2014, according to their respective budgets.
Communication officials from both the city and county are actively identifying “practical methods” to share services, Aluotto said. For instance, both the city and county use the same Computer-Aided Dispatch technology platform that can be cross-integrated into both communication centers
• If you need Hamilton Police or Fire to respond but it is not an emergency, call 785-1300. • If you need to speak with an employee of the Hamilton Police or Fire Departments, call 868-5811 for police and 785-7500 for fire.
“We could truly work for each other, and back each other up 100 percent of the time, should a failure occur at either communication center,” Aluotto said. “Right now, we can answer calls for the city, but we can’t dispatch for them so we’re definitely taking the shared services concept seriously.”
In May, Hamilton County commissioners extended their hands to the city, passing a resolution advocating for further discussion on consolidating the two communication centers. Commissioners collectively decided to support the discussion for a merge of emergency communications through a resolution.
City of Hamilton, Butler County Merge Communication Services
By the middle of 2014, Hamilton and other Butler County residents may be able to send text, picture and video messages directly to 911.
As the merger of the city of Hamilton’s dispatch services with the county continues, expected to be completed by Dec. 18, communications officials say that beyond reducing the cost on taxpayers, the move will serve residents more efficiently. Upgrades in the system will also serve residents with technology many already have at their fingertips.
Hamilton pushed for the merger for one main reason – cost saving, both in personnel and upgrades in software and hardware. The largest dispatch center in Butler County is Hamilton’s, costing nearly $1.4 million annually to staff and operate, said Hamilton Police Capt. Marc. McManus.
In the deal with Butler County, the city will pay $902,000 for dispatch services in 2014, resulting in about a half-million dollars in savings, McManus said.
Projected charge Hamilton will pay the county for dispatch services, according to the city:
- 2014: $902,103 - 2015: $947,208 - 2016: $994,568 - 2017: $1,044,296 - 2018: $1,096,510
The amounts paid will be increased to account for increased maintenance fees, personnel costs, and system upgrades that will be incurred, according to the agreement.
“The basis of it came when the recession hit, like all places, several areas of the city had made adjustments to cut costs,” McManus said. “We want go be good stewards of taxpayer money, and the merger is one way to do that – it’s all driven by economics.”
The nearly 75,000 911 calls Hamilton residents place per year will now be in the hands of Butler County dispatchers. The increased call volume represents more than a 55 percent spike in the amount calls county dispatchers will receive come Dec. 18.
Butler County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Mike Franke, who oversees the communications section, said the county estimates receiving up to 130,000 911 calls when the merger is complete. As for staffing, jobs for Hamilton dispatchers have been offered, although about 10 of the 14 have accepted positions with the county. Currently, county
dispatch employs 20 line dispatchers, Franke said.
“Essentially, we’re doubling the workload and only increasing staffing by 50 percent,” Franke said. “We think we’re going to be OK with that because we’re all under one roof.
“Dispatching is very technology heavy there are a lot of costs associated with that. That’s where we can see a benefit from going from two software systems to one.”
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones will be responsible for personnel decisions including hiring, discharge, salary administration and collective bargaining, according to the agreement.
Updating software and technology is paramount in the future, Franke said. The original 911 system was built to optimally handle landline phone calls for the some 30 public safety agencies the county communications center serves.
Newer technology, or 'Next Generation 911,' is built to manage wireless and data much more efficiently. The installation of new hardware is tentatively scheduled for June, 1, 2014, Franke said.
“The way I look at it is 911 catching up to the current state of technology,” Franke said. “We have this generation growing up that can send a text to their friend around the world, but not to 911.”
As the transition continues, both McManus and Franke stressed the importance of placing emergency calls only to 911.
“In the past, cities used 911 for both emergency and non-emergency calls,” McManus said. “The county dispatch prefers the non-emergency line for incidents that don’t require an officer’s immediate presence.
“That is going to be a change for some.”
Meaning, for car break-ins, theft and other minor offenses or to file a police report, the county prefers those type of calls be placed to the non-emergency line.
Even if residents continue to call 911 for non-emergency purposes, county dispatchers will take the call and perform the necessary duties, but it’s a request officials are making to help prioritize calls.
“Any person out there should be able to decide whether they need someone now or later,” Franke said.