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News : Merging 911 Centers in Rockford, Winnebago County Would Save Time and Money
Rockford, IL, USA, Sept 2, 2015 -- An independent study commissioned by the Winnebago County Emergency Telephone System Board says Rockford and Winnebago County 911 centers should consolidate.
The merger has potential to improve efficiency and save money for both Rockford and Winnebago County taxing bodies, according to the report from L.R. Kimball. Right now, the Winnebago County Sheriff's 911 center takes emergency calls from outside Rockford and the city's 911 center dispatches police and firefighters to calls from within city limits. Each serves as backup to the other when service is lost. Backup centers are required by state law. Members of the City Council and County Board supported exploring a combined center earlier this year.
Combined centers wouldn't require as much equipment, reducing technology costs when upgrades are needed in the near future, said Deputy Chief Scott Andrews, who oversees the county's 911 center. Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana wants to have police 911 dispatchers in one location while fire dispatchers are at the other center because it will improve communications between agencies.
"We really need to start combining our services all across the board," Caruana said. "I don't see a downside to this. I'm not sure why we're not there at this stage in the game."
Kimball's report recommends a single countywide center under the control of the city. The report recommends two options for consolidation:
1. Bring all operations to the city's 911 center at Walnut and First streets and have the county's center on North Main Street serve as a backup.
2. Consolidate all police dispatch at the county's 911 center and continue fire dispatch operations at the city's site, which would also serve as the emergency backup.
"The consolidation process is complex and can yield substantial improvements in service levels, responder safety, employee retention, technology efficiencies and potential cost savings if implemented correctly," Kimball's report states.
The Rockford Fire Department managed a countywide 911 center from 1991 until 2006, when the county opened its facility. Rockford Fire Chief Derek Bergsten said the 911 Board needs to do more analysis on consolidation and what would work best. It also needs to study costs before and after 2006, when 911 operations separated into city and county facilities. Bergsten doesn't expect major costs savings because whether under one roof or two, the same number of calls are taken. The 911 Board will discuss the issue at its next meeting Tuesday.
"Our No. 1 focus is the best service to the citizens," Bergsten said.
While 911 calls from landlines are hard-wired to the correct dispatch center, cell phone calls are sometimes routed to the wrong place because of the way cell towers are configured. That requires dispatch centers to transfer calls to the right place. Through July, a combined 6,557 calls have been transferred between the two facilities. The transfer is quick — just a momentary delay — but it would be more efficient if all calls went to one center, officials say.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Winnebago County Emergency Telephone System Board:
Winnebago County is a county in the U.S. state of Wisconsin. As of the 2010 census, the population was 166,994.
Published: Thursday, September 3, 2015