Combined Three-Community Dispatch System May Cut Duplication, Save on Future Equipment, Free Police for Full-time Crimefighting

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Berkeley Heights Police Chief David Zager outlines his township's dispatch personnel costs at Wednesday's presentation on a three-community joint dispatch facility.
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SUMMIT, NJ - Police, fire and administrative officials from Summit, Berkeley Heights and New Providence on Wednesday evening sketched a plan for a centralized police, fire and emergency dispatch center that would serve all three communities, and possibly other entities.

Members of the working group mapping the proposal made the presentation to elected officials of the three municipalities at Summit's Lawton C. Johnson Middle School.

Working group members include: New Providence Business Administrator Douglas Marvin, New Providence Police Chief Anthony D. Buccelli, Jr , Summit Fire Chief Joseph Houck, Berkeley Heights Police Chief David Zager, Summit Police Chief Robert Lucid, Berkeley Heights Business Administrator John Conway and Summit City Administrator Christopher Cotter.

The center, to be staffed by professionals trained as dispatchers, would be located in the former New Providence Rescue Squad building in the borough's municipal complex on Elkwood Road. Although funded by the three "stakeholder" communities, it would be operated by a "joint meeting" with a professional director and a management board.

According to Mr. Marvin, the new facility would enhance technical operations and efficiency, enhance "interoperability" of the participating departments and their working relationships and eliminate redundancies.

The presenters all praised the professionalism of their current dispatchers and said the new system was meant to draw upon that and improve on the efficiency of the current separate systems.

"Our dispatch center was molded by people with a great deal of insight, " Chief Houck said in reference to the joint fire dispatch system started by Summit and Millburn after initial talks in the 1980s. He noted that joint system enables those two communities to simultaneously dispatch equipment to fight fires in either town with the non-host community's department "backing up" the host community.

As presently envisioned, Mr. Cotter said, the new facility would begin with 4 to 6 workstations around a "redundant core" with room for expansion. It also would include a meeting room and an emergency operations center. The center would meet standards set by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials.

Costs would be shared on a per-capita basis among the three stakeholder municipalities, said Mr. Conway.

Startup costs would include planning, supervised by a professional in the dispatching field and an "agnostic integrator" with no ties to any of the organizations involved who would take an unbiased look at the best technology to be employed in the facility, he noted.

There also would be capital costs unique to each of the communities and capital costs for creation of the center, he said.

Annual operating costs, according to Mr. Conway, would include: salaries and benefits, phones, DSL lines, equipment maintenance, utilities, insurance, supplies, professional fees, payroll services, maintenance and conference and training costs.

Currently, according to Chief Lucid, the three communities operate dispatch centers for their three police departments and the Summit Fire Department and Cencom handles medical dispatching in association with Overlook Hospital.

He added often when a medical emergency call comes into one of the Summit departments it has to be "handed off" to Cencom and much of the same information repeated.

This handoff, he said, would not be necessary with a centralized dispatch operation.

The current level of 17 fulltime dispatchers and seven per diem dispatchers, Chief Lucid noted, would be reduced to 12 dispatchers, an administrative assistant and a director, who would have "hands-on" knowledge of the entire dispatching operation.

Although each of the host communities would initially use its own radio transmission sites and its own mobile and portable equipment, they would all be able to use three frequencies purchased several years ago by Summit from the Federal Communications Commission.

The use of these frequencies could lead to expansion to a "trunked system," he said, which would have capacity to add more users later if the host communities wished to charge other entities to join the centralized system.

Chief Buccelli added a combined computer data and records management system for the new facility could be obtained for about $85,000.

Because Verizon will no longer support the current 911 emergency dispatch system after September 1, 2011, Chief Houck noted, each of the communities, if they continued separate dispatch systems would have to pay about $200,000 for new equipment or risk having their systems fail.

The potential savings in time spent on training, personnel management and benefits with a centralized system could total about $662,000 per year, the Chiefs said.

They also noted the use of professional dispatchers would free more police who currently substitute for dispatchers in training or off for vacations or personal time to go out on patrol.

There would be no budgetary costs to the three municipalities this year, Mr. Cotter said, with the possibility of grants for the emergency operations center from the federal Department of Homeland Security, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program and skilled labor which Union County could provide to renovate the New Providence building.

Mr. Marvin added, however, the working group had not yet calculated specific cost savings for each municipality due to the proposed facility, reiterating only that the costs would be divided per capita based on population.

With a target date for completion by September 1, 2011, due to the expiration of the 911 system, he said the working group would seek resolutions of support from the three governing bodies, prepare a formal report and recommendations from the working group to be discussed with the public and aim for the selection of an expert to develop equipment and facility specifications.

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