SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

January 9, 2012

After rejecting regional 911, Danvers faces growing problems at dispatch center

DANVERS — At the Danvers dispatch center, the radio consoles are so old that the manufacturer cannot guarantee it can find replacement parts, police Chief Neil Ouellette said.

Because the police station is so cramped, all of the station's computer servers and radio networking infrastructure, along with phone lines and a battery backup system, sit in a basement that floods from time to time. And upstairs, civilian dispatchers are crowded into a space designed before they had computer monitors, sometimes pulling 16-hour shifts to cover when someone is out.

All those are among the reasons the town has been exploring ways to share a regional dispatch center. And now that the efforts have failed, it's creating a sense of urgency about improving the situation.

Danvers could have joined the regional 911 center now under construction on the grounds of Middleton Jail, as neighboring Beverly, Wenham, Middleton and Topsfield have done. But selectmen balked at that, fearing it would create a large bureaucracy at the jail, along with soaring cost to cities and towns if state grants to subsidize the center dried up.

Instead, the town teamed with Salem and Marblehead to seek state money to study the possibility of a shared communications center. Late last month, however, Town Manager Wayne Marquis told selectmen that the three communities failed to win the grant. The state said it was already funding regional communications centers in Lynn and Swampscott and the regional center at Middleton Jail.

"They were reluctant to fund another situation," Ouellette said.

Now, officials say, deficiencies within the Police Department's communications center have reached a point where something has to be done.

In the short term, the town is in the process of upgrading its emergency radio equipment to comply with a Federal Communications Commission narrowband frequency requirement by Jan. 1, 2013. Assistant Town Manager Diane Norris said some radio equipment predates her 23 years working for the town.

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