Three Panhandle 911 dispatch centers, including the one based in Chadron, are expected to move forward with regionalization efforts to reduce costs to taxpayers and increase redundancy.
A cooperative agreement between nearly 30 counties in the Panhandle and the south central area of Nebraska would distribute the cost of expensive communication equipment across the counties involved and make the conversion to next generation 911 technology possible more cost efficient and timely.
Chadron Police Chief Tim Lordino received the Chadron City Council’s approval Monday to move forward with a proposal to join efforts with the South Central 911 consortium. He presented the plan to the Dawes County Commissioners earlier this year, as that entity is the other primary funding source for the Chadron dispatch center.
911 communication equipment, specifically the Viper systems that operate the call centers, are costly, and to date the Chadron center has borne the cost of upgrading and maintaining those systems alone. The last upgrade, in January 2018, cost more than $100,000. Had the local dispatch center been part of a consortium, those costs would have been shared by all of the members.
“It makes sense to spread the costs across as many counties as we can,” Lordino said Monday.
Discussions on regionalizing the 911 communication equipment began last summer among several Panhandle communities, and as talks evolved it appeared to make sense for those counties to join the already established South Central 911 consortium. There are currently three Viper systems in the Panhandle and two more in the South Central region. Two Vipers are capable of handling the emergency communications for most of the state.
The regionalization proposal calls for two Viper systems, one each in Dawes and Dawson counties, to serve as hosts to remotely run communication centers in the rest of the counties in the consortium.
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“We would share, collectively, those two (Vipers),” Lordino said.
In addition to decreasing costs for each communication center, the plan will also provide greater stability in 911 communications. A greater geographical distance between the two Viper systems will protect communications in the event a natural disaster strikes one region, taking 911 communications offline. The second Viper would serve as a backup in that situation, allowing emergency calls to continue without interruption.
The plan also has other benefits, including the capability of having calls re-routed to other dispatch centers if a major catastrophe in one county or city is overloading the system with emergency calls. While this is already possible to some degree, the regionalization will improve that process because every communication center in the consortium will have access to the mapping data for each county, making it possible for remote dispatchers to more accurately dispatch first responders to the correct location.
Regionalization will also provide a path forward in the conversion to next generation 911, which will allow communication centers to receive emergency requests by text message and to receive videos and images, as well as supporting American Sign Language users. That conversion was authorized by the state Legislature in LB993 last year, but the implementation will be costly if individual communication centers must upgrade on their own. Under the plan to join the South Central consortium, those upgrades would again be cost-shared among multiple dispatch centers.
Cheyenne County, which also dispatches for Deuel County, has already been admitted into the South Central consortium, Lordino said. Morrill, Box Butte and Dawes counties are expected to request admission in May. Once the consortium approves admission, both the City of Chadron and Dawes County will have to sign an inter-local agreement to formalize the regionalization. The work to connect the Vipers in Dawes and Dawson counties and establish the remote connections would then begin, with the approximately $50,000 cost to do so shared by all of the communication centers involved.
Communication centers in Kimball and Sheridan counties have not yet reached the end of their equipment’s useful life but could request joining the large consortium at a later date, Lordino said. The Chadron dispatch center also serves the northern half of Sioux County, and those calls would continue to be routed through Chadron’s communication center.