Public Safety Dispatch Forum Next Wednesday
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The Selectmen will host a public forum regarding options for providing public safety dispatch services on Wednesday, September 14 at 6:30PM. This will be another virtual forum and the Zoom link can be found on the Town’s Web site under the meeting calendar. The Board is aiming to decide within a few weeks whether to re-invest in our in-house service or switch to the regional service offered by the State’s North Shore Regional 911 Center in Middleton.
Background information regarding the debate about how best to provide dispatch services for our fire and police operations can be found on the Dispatch page of the Town’s web site. Current operations are described as well as various options moving froward ranging from doubling our current services to provide two dispatchers at all times to relying on the regional service to provide all dispatch needs. Costs associated with the various options are presented.
We are at a decision point – the time has come to either re-invest in our current operations or switch to the regional service. In-house operations need a new computer-aided dispatch software program and, at a minimum, a fourth full-time employee. Staffing weekend shifts with part-time workers or paying overtime to police officers has been difficult of late.
We have one dispatcher on duty at a time. During a complex call like a life-threatening medical emergency or an active fire situation, the dispatcher ideally is giving full attention to the incident. However, if other calls come in, the dispatcher must juggle both the incident and the new calls. For larger incidents we try to bring in a second dispatcher, but this takes anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. This lack of a second dispatch person being immediately available is a major reason the Fire and Ambulance Department favors moving to the regional service which can provide multiple dispatchers without costing the Town more money. The Police Department favors keeping the operations local.
If the Selectmen decide to pursue joining the NSR911 Center, the next step would be the completion of a detailed feasibility study. The Center would undertake this 2-3 month study to determine the details of providing dispatch service for Manchester. A similar study was completed this summer for Ipswich. The feasibility study is the precursor to a contract offer from the State. While we fully anticipate that the contract would be for 10 years at no cost, as was the case in Ipswich, we will not know for sure until our study is completed.
If the Town were to accept the proposed contract from the State, the NSR911 Center would begin the process of setting us up to receive their services. This is a year-long process covering everything from the physical connection of communication lines to having dispatchers ride with our public safety personnel to become familiar with the Town including entering landmark locations into the dispatch software that may be used when a 911 call comes in. Months of training take place before the switch is made. Thus, if we were to switch over to the NSR911 Center, it likely would not take place until January of 2023 at the earliest.
As outlined in the materials on the Town’s Dispatch webpage, numerous options exist for providing the Police Station Reception service dispatchers provide. Obviously if we keep dispatching services in-house we do not have to change how we service the small amount of walk-in traffic the Station sees.
We have identified the choices that are before us. It is now time to make decisions to ensure we continue to provide top-notch dispatch services for our public safety operations. The public forum on the 14th of September provides another opportunity for residents to learn more about the choices we have and to express your opinion about which choice you would prefer.