FRANKFORD TOWNSHIP, NJ – Local officials joined together with Sheriff Michael Strada on Friday for the official groundbreaking ceremony of the Sussex County Sheriff’s Communications/911 Center.
In addition to Strada, several dignitaries attended the event including U.S. Congressman Scott Garrett (NJ-5), Freeholder Director Phillip Crabb, Freeholder Deputy Director Parker Space, and Freeholder Member Richard Vohden.
“This was truly a team effort,” said Strada, as he thanked Garrett, Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11), the freeholders, Sussex County Administrator John Eskilson, Undersheriff Keith Armstrong, his staff, Emergency Management Deputy Coordinator Captain George Kately, and the sheriff’s office information technology supervisor Lieutenant Dave Rome.
“This is an exercise in execution, I congratulate the Sheriff’s Office in moving forward,” Crabb said.
Originally, a project was considered for a countywide 911 center several years ago in a new facility with an estimated price tag of more than $7 million, and the concept was shelved. The idea did not receive a warm welcome from municipalities, which were concerned about the impact on taxpayers, as well as the potential loss of local jobs for dispatchers at the county’s six dispatching centers. Currently, many municipalities have shared service agreements with one of the centers in the county; Sparta, Newton, Andover Township, Hopatcong, Hardyston, and Vernon.
The new dispatch center, which will include a new wing added on to the former juvenile detention center located at 135 Morris Turnpike, will cost about $1 million, Strada said. The architect, the Newton-based HQW Architects, has added the new section to the existing structure, which is already equipped with restrooms, a locker room, and kitchen.
“Our sheriff’s communication center needed to be updated, our technology was out of date,” Strada said.
The Sussex County Sheriff’s Communications/911 Center, will have the ability to accommodate 10 different dispatch stations, and, Strada said, will be staffed as needed.
Whereas the municipalities would have been mandated to make the switch with the former county plan, with the new center, Strada said, municipalities that do not have their own dispatch center can shop around, and decide if they would like to use the new dispatch center for their own services. And ones that do, can also do the same.
Many towns are bracing for the potential escalated costs for the Next Generation 9-1-1 technology that will be mandated. Strada and Armstrong told The Alternative Press that in addition to phone calls, the new equipment would have the ability to accept 9-1-1 calls via text messaging, video (video streaming by cell phone), and email. Additionally, the system will have the ability to plot GPS coordinates, in order to find the location of callers.
Strada said Hardyston and Vernon currently use the GPS technology with their own systems, and have been able to locate lost hunters, for example.
“This is the future,” Strada said. “It makes sense.”
Strada said the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office has its own communications center now, which, according to the sheriff’s office website, has 70 full-time employees on staff, and answers calls for 45 jurisdictions. Warren County Department of Public Safety also has its own Warren County 9-1-1 Communications Center with 25 employees (click here for more information), and Strada said Morris County is considering the same.
Although the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office does not take 9-1-1 calls, the sheriff’s office monitors all 9-1-1 activities throughout the county, and dispatches for its own office, the prosecutor’s office, the county road and health departments, and the jail.
“The next mandatory upgrade to their system will be catastrophic financially,” said Crabb of the upcoming mandates. “We have the financial framework to offer this facility [to municipalities].”
Strada said he has had conversations with many local officials, who are looking forward to the new center’s opening.
When asked by The Alternative Press about the local impact on jobs should municipalities transition their operations to the new center, Strada replied, “We’re going to have to hire staff here, we can’t do this ourselves.”
“This has the potential to be a shared service,” Strada said. “It’s about delivering the best services to this county for a low price."
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