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Summit, New Providence Take Next Steps Toward Shared Dispatch Center

Communities to meet with existing dispatchers, equipment vendors in January; engaging consultant for proposed timeline for dispatch center's construction, implementation.

New Providence and Summit continue to inch closer to a shared emergency dispatch center, which could be up and running in 12 to 18 months.

At their most recent meetings, New Providence Borough Council and Summit Common Council approved identical ordinances and resolutions that lay out the groundwork for this shared service, which will be housed in the New Providence Municipal Center where the Rescue Squad was formerly located.

Members of the center’s project committee met on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the next steps toward making this shared service a reality. Members of that committee include: Chris Cotter, City of Summit Administrator; Doug Marvin, New Providence Borough Administrator; Robert Weck, City of Summit Police Chief; Anthony Buccelli, New Providence Chief of Police; Joseph Houck, Summit Fire Department Chief and Director; and representatives from Millburn.

“The meeting went well. We had representatives from Summit, New Providence and Millburn, and we talked about next steps with regard to planning the standup of the center. We will have, in early January, an opportunity to meet with a series of vendors, and we will be looking at different equipment and technology they are providing, everything from radios, telephones and 9-1-1 equipment,” said Chris Cotter, administrator for the City of Summit. “We also talked about engaging a consultant to help us with the planning of this timeline as we go forward.”

Regarding equipment, Doug Marvin, New Providence borough administrator, said some of the existing 9-1-1 equipment needs to be replaced, and the committee will determine what can be used now and transferred to the shared dispatch center once it’s operational.

In addition, Marvin said there is a Computer Aided Dispatch System and Records Management System that needs to be purchased and will ultimately be implemented for both police agencies. Marvin said that will likely be purchased sooner rather than later “because the roll out of that is not necessarily dependent on the completion of the actual facility.”

Marvin said engaging a consultant for the center’s timeline is necessary, as there are many facets to this project.

“It sounds like a simple process but it’s really rather complex when you consider we have to look for a new telephone system for the dispatch center, the possibility of expanding that telephone system to cover New Providence and Summit, radio systems for the police cars, computer systems, 9-1-1 systems,” Marvin explained. “All of those components have to be brought together and figure out how to phase those into what will ultimately be the new dispatch center.” 

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, committee members also set up a meeting in January with the existing dispatchers from each town to go over plans for the dispatch center and answer any questions from dispatchers about how this project will move forward, Marvin said.  

“Our intention is to keep them fully appraised of the progress as we go forward,” Cotter said.

Marvin says he projects this center to take 12 to 18 months to complete, but it will all depend on how smoothly the plans go.

“I like to leave myself with a little flexibility in the unlikely event that something comes up and we just can’t meet that timeline,” Marvin said. “But certainly our goal is to have it operational by the end of next year [2013].”

Dispatch Center Specifics

According to the ordinance and resolution recently approved by both governing bodies, this shared center will be called the “New Providence & Summit Emergency Services Dispatch Center.”

Summit acquired two federal grants that total $1.6 million, which will provide this joint venture with state-of-the-art equipment and technology, Marvin said at the Nov. 26 New Providence Council meeting. However, the grants cannot be used to construct the facility, which will be housed in the New Providence Municipal Center, located at 360 Elkwood Ave. Instead, each community will contribute $350,000 to cover construction costs.

Over time, both towns could save more money by sharing a dispatch center.

Cotter said he estimates that Summit will save about $15,000 per year from what they currently pay for their dispatch function. Annually, he estimates that Summit will pay $692,000 to operate the shared dispatch center.

New Providence expects a cost savings of a few thousands dollars from what New Providence currently pays per year for the emergency dispatch function, Marvin said. However, New Providence does not view the monetary savings as the primary benefit of this shared service.

“Right now, in New Providence, when a dispatcher is sick, on vacation, out on training, taking their meal breaks — whatever the case may be — a police officer has to sit on the desk and cover the operation while that dispatcher is away,” Marvin explained. “That’s true in the Summit Police Department and the Summit Fire Department as well. So the benefit of this shared environment is it will no longer be necessary to divert police officers or firefighters from their regular duties in order to perform dispatch duties. That’s really a big benefit. I think we figured, across Summit and New Providence, that’s about four full-time equivalent police officers or firefighters. That’s a big benefit. But the actual dollar savings was not what we viewed to be the primary benefit of this.”

When there are multiple incidents occurring simultaneously in New Providence under the current dispatch function, Marvin said issues can arise.

“Our dispatchers are very good. This should never be interpreted as a criticism by any means because these folks are exceptional. But the human constraints of multitasking are what could cause issues when multiple events are happening simultaneously,” Marvin said. “There will be dispatchers on who will cover Summit and New Providence — fire departments, rescue squads, police departments and all emergency services in both communities — so there will be more than one dispatcher sitting there at one time, so that’s really where the benefit is. The other benefit is when you talk about interoperability between agencies. Ideally, when you have dispatchers sitting next to one another at a dispatch center, they will all know what’s going on in both communities. It will be very easy for a dispatcher, who is looking at a New Providence event, for example, [to see] if there’s a Summit car nearby [and] send the Summit car over [to the scene in New Providence] and vice versa. So the mutual aid will flow very smoothly between the agencies.”

Marvin and Cotter said the joint dispatch center is likely to employ the same number of full-time dispatchers as each municipality currently employs. 

In New Providence, Marvin said there are four full-time dispatchers.

Cotter said there are nine full-time dispatchers in Summit — five in the police department and four in the fire department.

In addition, there will be some part-time dispatchers hired but the number of part-time dispatchers has not been determined at this time.

Marvin said an executive director will be hired to run the facility, which will likely take place a minimum of six months before the center opens.

“There’s going to be work that needs to be done as far as the center itself goes,” Marvin said. “He or she is going to have to do policies and procedures, rules and regulation; he or she will have to interview and hire staff so there will be a lot of decisions that have to be made on an ongoing basis before we turn the key and start the operation.”

The center’s executive director will also determine how long each shift will be for dispatchers and how many dispatchers will be working at one time.

Right now, Marvin projects four dispatchers will be working during the daytime hours and three dispatchers will be working during the overnight hours.

Marvin said other positions budgeted in the shared agreement include part-time administrative support, which would be around 20 hours per week; part-time technology support, as this will be a technology-rich environment and onsite support will be needed; and a project manager to work with the various contractors during the center’s construction and implementation process.

Millburn’s Involvement

Summit Fire Department currently performs dispatch functions for Millburn Fire Department and Millburn is interested in continuing that relationship going forward, said Cotter and Marvin. However, they haven’t made a final decision yet.

“Millburn continues to be involved on at least the level that they are a customer as a part of this going forward,” Cotter said. “So Millburn Fire Department will continue to be a part of it and potentially, as we go forward, Millburn may join with their police department and first aid squad but that’s something they continue to evaluate.”

Marvin said the cost for Millburn to have a contract with the shared dispatch center hasn’t been determined either, but he said it could be what they are currently paying.

Involvement From Other Towns

Summit and New Providence could be a service provider for other communities that would like to share the dispatch services, according to the approved ordinance, which could generate revenue to offset operational costs for each town.

Marvin said interested communities would need to speak with executive director once the center is operational, who would bring the request to the center’s management committee.

Marvin said communities can join the center in two ways:

1) Sign on as a participating local unit, meaning a stakeholder like Summit and New Providence.

2) Join the center as a contractor.

Either way, approval from both governing bodies would be needed. However, bringing on additional communities is not a priority right now.

“We’ll need some time to have the center operate with our existing staffing levels before we go out and consider bringing on additional municipalities or services,” Marvin said.

Dispatch Center Management Committee

The management committee will include Marvin, Cotter, one member of each governing body and one appointee from each town’s emergency services.

Marvin said those appointments will be made by the governing bodies of each town and the committee members will then appoint a seventh person to serve on the committee.

According to the agreement, Marvin said he thinks the management committee will be required to meet at least quarterly and will not run day-to-day operations. Instead, it will serve as a Board of Directors, and be responsible for approving the budget and getting that information back to the respective governing bodies. 

Looking Ahead

Cotter said he’s very optimistic that this shared service arrangement will prove to be the beginnings of some really improved levels of service for both communities.

“The emergency dispatching, today, has become very much an important component of the entire emergency response continuum,” Cotter said. “So while I believe it’s under-appreciated oftentimes by the public, having the right organization, the right people, with the right kinds of training, equipment and technology can prove to be life saving in terms of this important component of emergency services, whether EMS, fire or police. So this will allow us to bring all of those pieces together and each of our communities, including Millburn, will benefit from this.”

Cotter said the process of bringing together two separate emergency services has not been easy to do.

“Anytime you begin to combine any component of emergency services, there is or there should be a great deal of scrutiny on how that is done because the stakes are always high. But this is well on its way to being really a model of how it should be done,” Cotter said. “I commend the governing bodies in each community, and particularly the representatives of the emergency services in each community because they’re the ones who will live with this, be a part of it, and will be critical and crucial in terms of making it work. I believe it will and it’s thanks very much to their input and continuing participation going forward.”

Editor’s note: Additional information regarding this shared dispatch center will become available in the first few months of 2013. We’ll continue to provide updates as often as we can.

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