The Union Recorder

April 26, 2014

911 changes not agreeable

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Local elected officials don’t agree on E-911 service changes at this point.

A joint meeting of City of Milledgeville and Baldwin County elected officials and staff kicked around the notion of a consolidated 911 operation with an appointed board authority in charge of operations or continuing to run two separate systems.

After the gathering, everyone agreed more information was needed before travel commences down a road of change.

Deputy Director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission Laura Mathis moderated the heated discussions. The structure, costs, staffing and location are a few hurdles to going under one 911 roof.

Currently, the Baldwin County 911 Center handles dispatch for all emergency medical, fire and law enforcement response. City resident calls are relayed and then dispatched by the police department.

The county also maintains the Master Street Address Guide (MSAG).

City Councilwoman Jeanette Walden, District 2, said her city constituents have to repeat emergency information a second time to MPD dispatchers.

“What we are trying to do is get it to where our constituents do not have to repeat their 911 call,” Walden said. “When someone calls in distress, you don’t want to sit there and say it a second time. That’s the goal we are trying to reach. We have the equipment to do it.”

County Commissioner Henry Craig, District 4, asked city representation if the county-run 911 service places citizen lives in jeopardy.

“Has there been any situation that you’ve reported to the county that the county was at fault, didn’t provide or additional capability that you requested?” Craig said.

Capt. Lynnette LaRocque with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office oversees 911 operations.

“It’s very efficient. We’ve had very few complaints,” she said Thursday. “We just had a call from a City Councilwoman the other day. Her house was being broken into and help arrived in less than two minutes from the time she called 911.”

City Councilwoman Dr. Collinda J. Lee, District 1, was the aforementioned home burglary victim Tuesday.

“When you are in distress and afraid, you don’t have time to answer this set of questions then turn around and be transferred to the city and asked the same questions. It’s about the delay,” Lee said. “They should be effective and efficient for everyone.”

LaRocque said the county previously offered to dispatch for the city without delay.

“On our end, we’ve done everything we can do to address the concerns and issues that have been brought forth,” she said.

A service delivery agreement good through 2017 places a wrinkle in the conversation.

“It was specifically put forth by the city that they did not want us to dispatch for them,” LaRocque said. “If they want to change that, by all means, let’s work together. I have an open position at dispatcher.”

County Commission Chairman Sammy Hall, District 3, said he’s never heard any 911 complaints.

Hall said both sides must decide if “they have the political will” to reach for a consolidated service.

“As far as how it gets done, who does the dispatching and the text messaging, all that can be worked out,” Hall said. “The question is do you want it consolidated in some form? If we are serious, we need to step up and say it. If we aren’t, let’s stop talking about it.”

Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord said vendors have explained how a consolidated set up could be achieved. He said the city and county could work “under the same system.”

“They showed us how you could split back offices, being consolidated if you will, but working at two separate places,” Swicord said. “That’s already been on the table.”

Commissioner Tommy French, District 2, said both government boards should conclude if they want to research the issue.

“We haven’t even decided to look at it,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s going to benefit us.”

Sheriff Bill Massee said if 911 operations remain separated money issues will appear.

“Before long, the fight is going to be over money. It’s not going to be over who is dispatching, answering the radio or picking up the telephone,” Massee said. “As long as it’s split, we are heading down that road.”

The sheriff said 911 doesn’t make money now.

“It’s about the money guys. Why don’t we just say it?” Swicord said. “It has nothing to do with being at one place or two places.”

LaRocque said city and county 911 databases are “different and they do need to mesh together.”

“We will need an off-site database to make sure the locations are correct in both spots,” the county 911 director said. “There is a cost associated with that. That won’t happen overnight.”

City 911 phones lines could separate into “two parts” to work at different locations.

“That is what it would take for us to receive the same information and for the stuff to get routed correctly so that people get the right 911 or location with that call period,” LaRocque said.

Swicord said the Computer Aided Dispatch systems at city and county 911 don’t integrate with each other.

The MSAG is a major issue.

“The only thing we are lacking is the MSAG because the county owns it and doesn’t outsource it. I think there are only two counties in the state of Georgia that do that,” the police chief said. “We are receiving their MSAG, which is not matching up because AT&T says it won’t because they do an in-house MSAG.”

Elected officials left Thursday’s joint meeting saying that both professional staffs will collect vendors and experts within a week’s time to make a presentation to all parties before the end of May.