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Combining emergency dispatch a good idea

Published June 25. 2012 4:00AM

Private package-delivery services use control centers to dispatch planes and trucks to destinations around the world and monitor where the merchandise is at any time. Drone operators sitting at computer screens in South Dakota can direct air attacks on locations on the other side of the world.

But here in Connecticut emergency and town officials can't seem to figure out how to consolidate emergency 911 dispatch operations so that a few centers can more economically dispatch services for multiple towns.

As our June 22 front-page story - "Despite efforts, regional dispatch remains just an ideal" - noted, most every elected official thinks this a good idea in concept. There is no good reason every town needs its own dispatch equipment and contingent of round-the-clock dispatchers. Perhaps once upon a time in-depth experience about the roads and conditions in a specific community could justify keeping all dispatching local. But given today's computer technology, both a dispatcher and a police officer can access detailed mapping information, a history of events at a location, warnings about the residents living there and other critical facts.

Waterford spent about $6.5 million in the past few years to update the town's emergency communications system. All groups that might have to communicate about an emergency - police, fire, Millstone Power Station, public works, the school system - can now tap into a single frequency. Neighboring New London needs to update its dispatch services. The Waterford system could handle New London calls. Figure it out.

East Lyme and Waterford also discussed merging dispatch services, but the idea ran into union opposition. Less efficient ways of doing things cannot be tolerated to protect jobs. That approach is self-defeating, leading to organizations that are overstaffed in one area and unable to find the necessary resources to meet changing demands. The private sector learned this long ago; government needs to as well.

Likewise, Montville's new $6.5 million public safety complex, under construction on Route 32 in that town, will be capable of dispatching emergency personnel for multiple towns. Montville officials have said they are prepared to work out a deal to dispatch for neighboring towns, but so far the interest from those towns has not moved beyond talk. Ledyard Mayor John Rodolico said his town is interested and studying the matter.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and its commissioner, Reuben Bradford, are facing criticism for what appears to be a sensible plan to reduce the number of state police dispatch centers from 12 to 5. The Connecticut State Police commander, Col. Daniel Stebbins, drafted the plan. In a meeting with The Day editorial board, Col. Stebbins said the plan will allow state police to reassign troopers who now do dispatch duty back on the road, responding to emergencies, for which they are well trained and well paid. Civilian trained dispatchers can do dispatching duties from fewer control centers, he said. Right now many centers have both civilian and troopers working side by side, making Connecticut one of the few states to use state police officers in such a fashion.

Under the plan, single dispatch centers would remain at both Bradley International Airport and at the Bridgeport barracks, the state's busiest call center. But dispatch services for all other barracks would come from three control centers - in eastern, central and western Connecticut. Each barracks has traditionally had its own dispatch service.

The first regional dispatch service recently opened in northwest Connecticut, handling communications for the Litchfield, Canaan and Southbury barracks. It immediately raised concerns from local officials whether the change will adversely affect service. The state police union is opposed to the consolidation, perhaps fearing it could lead to eventual job losses, which Col. Stebbins tells us is not the intent. He wants to get troopers on the roads.

Next up in the coming year is an eastern dispatch service center for Montville, Colchester, Danielson and Tolland barracks.

If done right, this makes complete sense. Perhaps only in The Land of Steady Habits could such rational changes prove so difficult and controversial.

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