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Local News

January 7, 2013

Joining emergency forces

Regional dispatch center on track to open this summer

(Continued)

The building, for the most part, is done and includes battery-powered power supplies, dual boilers and backup generators to make sure the center remains operational no matter what. When it opens, three police and two fire dispatchers and a supervisor will handle calls in the main communications room.

In the next room, which has yet to be set up, dispatchers will answer wireless cellphone calls from the region. About 75 percent of calls coming into a dispatch center originate from cellphones, Dubas said.

Whether someone is at a local police or fire station answering the phone will be an individual decision of member communities. Dubas said Beverly and Amesbury will staff their stations, and Middleton will have limited hours of someone answering calls at its station. The intent of the center is to handle emergency 911 calls first, but it can also handle other “10-digit” calls, as well.

“911 comes down to two things,” Dubas said. “Answer phone, send help.”

Controversy

Topsfield’s fire chief said he has been working on a regional dispatch center proposal since 2005 on the premise that small communities have a tough time paying for ever-evolving communications technology and services, with dispatcher training an afterthought.

The center proved controversial when it was proposed in 2009, with questions about its operation, costs and the creation of another bureaucracy at the Sheriff’s Department. More than half of the 13 communities that it was originally envisioned to support have opted out.

Funding for the center was announced in Danvers in the spring of 2009, but the town has decided not to join.

Hamilton and Wenham have shared dispatch services for years, and while Wenham is joining, Hamilton is exploring shared regional dispatch with Ipswich. Questions have also surfaced about the hiring of Dubas as the director, after he served as the consultant on the project. Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins said it made sense to hire someone who had built a regional dispatch center in the past, in this case in Pennsylvania.

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