Central 911 dispatching may become a necessity

When Columbiana County first began discussing the installation of a 911 emergency system more than 20 years ago, one of the stumbling blocks was apprehension about using central dispatching for the entire county. None of the departments wanted to give up their own dispatcher, and county officials were concerned about the affordability of centralized dispatching.

To placate all of those involved and finally get the system off the ground, five call 911 answering centers were established within the county — one at the sheriff’s department, and others at the East Liverpool, East Palestine, Columbiana and Salem police departments.

Now, at a recent 911 advisory committee meeting, Sheriff Ray Stone suggested it may be time to reconsider centralized dispatching. Why? Because each of the dispatching centers is having manpower difficulties.

Because the centers can only afford to hire just a few full-time dispatchers, they are forced to rely upon part-time workers. And, as part-time dispatchers become trained, they usually seek full-time employment elsewhere.

County police chiefs attending the meeting noted that it’s difficult to rely on part-time employees to carry the load, especially in these jobs which are so crucial to public safety. They also noted that they must rely on these part-time dispatchers to work night and weekend shifts and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find capable people who are willing to work those hours.

Instituting centralized dispatching won’t be an easy task, even if it has become a necessary evil, because many police and fire departments here are so territorial it will be difficult for them to relinquish this control.

Then there is the issue of how to pay for it. Should every community and agency that benefits from central dispatching be required to contribute financially to its operation? Revenue from the county 911 tax on landlines and from the state 911 cellphone tax can only be used on equipment and operations, not personnel.

Necessity may force this issue and bring about this change, regardless of objections, so perhaps now is the time to begin having these discussions. We urge the committee to explore this option.