Momentum building for consolidated emergency dispatch system

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Jeffco and its municipalities looking at possibility

Jeffco and its municipalities are starting to consolidate emergency dispatch services in the county into one centralized call center.

A recent study done for the Jefferson County Emergency Communications Authority recommended consolidating the 10 primary and secondary call centers in Jeffco into one main call center and several regional dispatch centers.

The JCECA provides emergency telephone service for 28 law enforcement and emergency service agencies, including West Metro Fire, the Jeffco sheriff and Evergreen Fire/Rescue. The agency is funded from fees collected on telephone lines and cell-phones within the service area.

The study found that consolidating 911 service for all of the agencies involved in the JCECA would increase the response time for emergency services while also creating cost-saving efficiencies.

Jeff Irwin, executive director for the JCECA, said the idea for consolidation started to take hold about three years ago when several smaller agencies brought up it up.

After about three years of work, Irwin said, five agencies — the police departments for Golden, Arvada, Wheat Ridge and Lakewood, along with the Jeffco’s Sheriff’s Office — decided to move forward with a consolidation study.

“I think it makes a lot of sense. Now the technology can enable us to have a centralized 911 answering facility,” Irwin said. “My dream personally is, one call-taker holds the hand of a 911 caller from the beginning of the call to the first responder.”

For a consolidated system to work, all departments would need to be connected with the same type of computer-aided dispatch system. That system would allow a 911 operator to input a caller’s information and send it to the appropriate dispatch service, all while not having to transfer the call.

"They’re entering the information, and every time they hit 'enter,' that information is going to the right dispatch center without having to transfer any calls," Irwin said.

Currently a caller might be transferred to a secondary answering point and have to repeat some information.

Elk Creek Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin said all of the mountain fire departments are behind the idea of consolidation.

“We absolutely do support consolidation. Right now, with splintered dispatch services, it’s extremely difficult for us to get mutual aid between departments consistently,” McLaughlin said. “We’d be able to get the resources we need much quicker and more efficiently.”

McLaughlin said Elk Creek and the two nearest fire departments, Evergreen and Platte Canyon, are connected to different dispatch systems, making it difficult to call neighboring departments for assistance.

Part of implementing a new interconnected system would be to have the Sheriff’s Office receive calls for the mountain communities. Any fire or emergency medical calls in the mountain areas would be dispatched from Evergreen.

Evergreen Fire Chief Mike Weege said having a consolidated system would be a major benefit for the mountain fire protection districts not only in improving response time, but also in helping different departments work together on calls.

“Inter-operability is a big problem with all the agencies. From radio communication to phone systems to computer-aided dispatching systems, mapping systems. A lof of the agencies are on different systems, which makes it very difficult to work together on large incidents,” Weege said. “The way we operate up here, we rely on each other quite a bit. … Having a dispatch center that could implement that is very important.”

Irwin said the next step would be working on building a consensus among the participating cities and districts for a process to achieve consolidation. Part of that will be figuring out how much all of this will cost.

“That’s the junction we’re at right now. We have this study, it’s given us some ideas, and now we need to try and start seeing what’s the cost,” Irwin said.

Irwin said that, beyond cost, many issues will have to be hashed out. 

One of the biggest questions would be how dispatchers from different departments would train and work together in the same building and whether the pay rates across different departments would have to be consistent.

Irwin is presenting the study in the next month to city managers in Jeffco.

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergrenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.