In today’s economic climate, government officials are grappling with ways to save money. One way is to consolidate the dispatch and call-taking functions of multiple first-responder agencies under one brick-and-mortar facility. However, to do it right takes planning and the ability to make tough staffing decisions, said Steve Wisely, interim director of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) communications center and 911 services division.

Fewer tax dollars are expected to be collected in 2009 and the coming years, so municipalities are warming up to public safety answering point, or PSAP, consolidation in order to save money and improve efficiencies, Wisely said.

However, several important steps must be taken to achieve a successful consolidation. First and foremost, a working relationship between government officials and public-safety officers is essential from the onset. Wisely advised that a roundtable of sorts be established where PSAP governance can be determined and operational procedures streamlined.

“If the agencies feel they have input to the day-to-day operations, the bigger issues then they will come to the table a little bit easier,” he said.

Staffing also must be addressed early in the planning process, according to Wisely. Personnel may have to be retrained because policies, procedures and equipment will be different. Operations managers may have to streamline salaries and titles because sometimes the pay scale of smaller agencies is lower than that of larger agencies. He said since 85 % of nationwide PSAPs employ five people or less, in a smaller center the so-called IT guru may be the person who just happens to be really good on computers. In a large consolidated PSAP, an information technology manager must be hired to manage the more complex computer, GIS, radio and telephony systems.

“In a PSAP center where you have a considerable amount of CAD systems, you may have to hire a dedicated person for technical support,” Wisely said. “Technical support is very important especially if you get into a larger CAD system and into GIS.”

He also believes the ability to share both voice and data information over one, interoperable system will be an important driving factor of PSAP consolidation.

“Since 911 we’ve heard of interoperability. In most people’s mind they think of radio and push-to-talk to other agencies,” he said. “But interoperable data is just as important and in some cases it may be more important. And it certainly is important in a larger center deploying multiple fire, police and EMS agencies, who then can share data a little bit easier.”

Look for a full-length feature on PSAP consolidation in our March 2009 edition.