Feb 03

From the Town Administrator's Desk - February 3, 2023

Posted on February 3, 2023 at 10:10 AM by Tiffany Marletta

February 3, 2023
Public Safety Dispatch through NSR 911
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Efforts to create a smooth transition to dispatching our Police and Fire calls through the North Shore Regional 911 Center (NSR 911) have been underway since last August when the Select Board signed the Intermunicipal Agreement with NSR 911.  Both Chiefs and their staff have been working closely with the staff at the Center to ensure that the new service is seamless to residents.   A “to do” list of over 300 action items was generated with excellent progress being made to date. The work is ahead of schedule and the NSR 911 Center will begin dispatching local public safety calls starting March 1.

(It is fortunate for us that the Center can start earlier as one consequence of recent police reform laws that now requires reserve officers to have the same training as full-time officers is that reserves are moving on to full-time positions.  This has resulted in a loss of dispatchers for the town.   Our remaining dispatchers continue to do excellent work and will stay on through June for ongoing assistance with the transition.)

North Shore Regional 911 Center is a dual Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and an operation that answers and directs 911 calls and requests for emergency assistance. The Center is a division of the Massachusetts State 911 Department, and their mission is to serve as the communications link between all citizens and public safety departments.  For many years 911 calls made from a cell phone in Manchester were handled by the Center. 

The North Shore Regional 911 Center, located at 18 Manning Avenue in Middleton, is an 11,000 sq. ft. facility featuring 17 answering terminals, two 500kW generators with uninterrupted power supply systems and is staffed by 31 highly trained telecommunicators. The NSR911 Center will answer all 911 emergency calls made within Manchester limits twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The Center will also field non-emergency informational calls.

Alyson Dell Isola, NSR911 Director, and Christopher Ryan, NSR 911 Deputy Director, have provided excellent guidance as preparations have advanced for the transition to the Center.   They have stayed on top of every single detail and have taken the initiative to provide extra redundancy and a more robust system of communications throughout town then originally planned (new radio transmission equipment, etc.) 

Chief Fitzgerald and Chief Cleary have been able to ensure that the Center has all the needed information, including protocols that our staff follow, to allow the dispatchers to properly interact with our public safety personnel.  For example, Property information, including local names and landmarks, have been entered into the computer aided dispatch system.  GPS tracking of every call pinpoints the exact location. NSR 911 dispatchers are riding around town with our staff to become familiar with Manchester and our staff. 

The Manchester Police Department lobby will continue to operate normally, 24/7, through June, 2023.   The Select Board and Finance Committee are currently evaluating several models available to keep the lobby open for residents beyond this date.  

If we have done our preparations correctly, and the Chiefs believe we have, a caller should not notice a difference when they call our public safety services starting March 1.   To facilitate a full understanding of the new service, the NSR 911 Center will hold an open house at the Middleton facility to provide residents an opportunity to tour the facility and meet staff.  A public forum will also be held in Manchester to allow residents to have any questions answered. Dates for these will be announced soon. For more information on the transition go the Town’s website or type in bit.ly/mbtsdispatc.    

Jan 27

From the Town Administrator's Desk - January 27, 2023

Posted on January 27, 2023 at 3:10 PM by Tiffany Marletta

The Future of Public Safety
By Gregory T. Federspiel

One of the bigger issues the Town faces as a new budget is developed for the upcoming Fiscal Year (July 1 start date) is determining the right level of staffing for our public safety departments.  The Police, Fire, and Harbor Departments are all confronting new challenges that require a hard look at current staffing and what changes might be needed going forward.

In the Harbor Department, having a single Harbormaster with some part-time seasonal assistance is proving to be inadequate for the increased number of boaters that ply Manchester waters.  The popularity of Sand Dollar Cove at the mouth of the harbor and the increased use of more distant beaches (White, Black and Gray) has grown significantly.  Large weekend crowds require a larger presence of safety boats in order to maintain a safe and orderly environment.  At a minimum, a new seasonal full-time position on the water is needed.

Over at the Fire Department, the loss of an active call force (we use to have upwards of 25 call fire fighters) creates a staffing shortage for back-to-back medical calls or when there is a structure fire.  We currently have 3 full-time fire fighters/paramedics on duty 24/7.  It is best to have two trained staff to roll any rig.  If two are out on an ambulance call the third either stays behind at the station or assists on the first call depending on the severity of the medical emergency.  In any case, there is not a fourth person to provide a second crew.  If a second ambulance call comes in, we rely on mutual aid either from a private ambulance service or Gloucester to respond.  (All of our police officers are trained at the basic EMT level and can provide first aid assistance as well.)  

For an active fire, the protocol requires a minimum of four fire fighters providing for “2 in and 2 out.”   This means that when 2 firefighters enter a burning structure (working in pairs is part of the protocol) there are two outside the building assisting and immediately available should the two inside run into trouble and need to be rescued.  Again, mutual aid is an important part of our emergency response plan, but it takes time for additional crews to respond from another community.   While active structure fires are rare in town, with only three on and no more call fire fighters coming to assist, our crew of three may need to wait for additional crews to arrive before attacking a fire from the inside.

To provide four fire fighters/paramedics on duty 24/7 requires that we hire at least two more fire fighters and up to six more if we are to cover all vacation and sick time to avoid dropping back to three.  

In the Police Department, recent reforms to the rules governing training requirements for officers has led to a swift decline in the number of reserve officers we have. Reserves must now have the same training as a full-time police officer thus reserves are moving to full-time positions. In a few short  months we have lost 10 of our 12 reserve officers and the two remaining are retired and are capped at the number of hours they can work.  We have always relied on our reserves to cover vacant shifts due to regular officer leave time.  While regular officers can work overtime to back fill a vacant shift, burn-out can quickly become a problem if this is done too often.  In addition, with the change of dispatching services to the North Shore Regional Center slated to occur soon, there is the need to provide station coverage.  

To solve both new staffing needs the Police Department is requesting to add two more patrol officers to their ranks.  Enhanced station coverage can be provided most of the time while also providing additional staff for larger emergencies.  

It may be possible to solve all three departmental needs through cross-training and putting resources to a given emergency need.  For the Harbor Department, the School Resource Officer is free during the bulk of the boating season allowing us to dedicate a person to water patrol.  While more discussions are needed, some police officers have indicated they would be willing to be trained as call fire fighters.   If enough do, and we add to the Police department, then a patrol officer could respond to a fire as a fire fighter while still leaving two patrol officers on duty. The Fire Department has concerns about this approach, but it seems worthy of further exploration.

Manchester is a small community.  Compared to many other communities we already have larger than normal Fire Department operations.  However, residents have traditionally been willing to pay for premium services.   Between now and the Annual Town Meeting the Finance Committee and the Select Board will be developing a proposed path forward to meet our new staffing challenges for voters to debate and approve.  Proposals will be discussed at length at the February 9 Finance Committee meeting.    


Jan 20

From the Town Administrator's Desk - January 20, 2023

Posted on January 20, 2023 at 9:44 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Getting the Word out – Town Hall Communication Strategies 
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The flow of accurate, timely information is a key element of good governance and critical to robust civic engagement.  This is true for all levels of civic discourse but is most immediately felt here at the local level. Over three years ago the Town created the new part-time position of Communications Coordinator to bolster the flow of information both to and from residents.  Many new strategies have been implemented and new approaches are always being evaluated.

Of course, as fate would have it, three months after hiring Tiffany Marletta as our first Communications Coordinator, COVID hit.  All of Tiffany’s time (and then some as she like many other staff put in many uncompensated hours during the height of the pandemic) was devoted to getting information out about local COVID policies, infection rates and eventually vaccine schedules.  It was a crash course in getting information out on social media and improving the Town’s web site as a conduit of information.

As the COVID crisis eased, Tiffany has been able to implement a broad range of communication strategies.  There are three basic types of information we try to convey.

1) Day to day operations and meeting details (examples include change in trash pickup, parking bans, special events, agendas and minutes, etc.)

2)  Strategic Issues, projects and initiatives (construction project updates, studies, policy debates like dispatch services, upcoming votes at a Town meeting, etc.)

3) Emergency Notifications (storms, water main breaks, public health notices, water bans, etc.)

Nearly a dozen different communication channels are employed.  The Town website contains detailed information on most every aspect of town operations and governance.  Often other communication channels will refer people to the Town web site as the central repository of important information.

The Town’s Code Red reverse 911 call system has over 5000 phone numbers from residents. Messages can be sent within a few minutes to all those who have signed up through our web site to receive them.  The system is used sparingly usually reserved for true emergencies.  (Some praised the use for the fall town meeting while others felt this use was not appropriate.)

Some 2000 residents subscribe to the Town’s email alerts (Subscribe to "MBTS Alerts" here)  While an email alert always accompanies a Code Red call, not all email alerts have a code red element. Again, sign-up through the Town’s web site.   

Newsflashes appear on the homepage of the Town’s website typically announcing an upcoming event, deadline or other important reminder.  About 300 homes subscribe to this.

Social media are utilized as well.  We have 1644 followers on FaceBook, 1219 on Instagram, 368 Twitter followers and 59 who subscribe to the Town’s You Tube page where meeting videos can be accessed. Follow along at @townofmbts. 

A quarterly newsletter is sent along with the property tax bills reaching some 2500 homes.  

The weekly Tide email update is sent to the 2000 Email alert subscribers informing residents of upcoming meetings, project updates, recent COVID statistics and more.  

Special flyers, lawn signs and other direct mailings are occasionally used depending on the given circumstance of a particular topic.  The Annual Report and Annual Town Meeting Warrant are delivered to every home.

Public meetings of elected boards are filmed and can be watched on You Tube if not watched live via 1623 Studies, our local community cable TV station, or via Zoom. Meeting agendas and minutes can be found online for most boards and committees.

And, of course, the Cricket is frequently used for various needs – legal notices, weekly Select Board updates, press releases and my weekly article.    

As extensive as this list is, there seems almost an insatiable appetite for more!  On the one hand it is encouraging that people are eager for information but on the other hand, it seems that some residents are not taking advantage of what is already available.  Regardless, we will keep working to improve the flow of information.   Your suggestions and ideas are always welcome.