Editorial: Merging emergency dispatches worth review

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Greenfield officials seem convinced that the Franklin County region would be better served by a single emergency dispatch system, rather than three. Now they hope a state-funded study will validate that idea and show the best way to implement it.

At present, Greenfield and Montague each have their own dispatchers, while all the other fire, police and ambulance departments in the county use the state police-run Shelburne Control dispatch service.

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh, like town officials going back to at least 2008, think merging the three will produce a better emergency response system for all towns by improving the safety of first responders, communication among agencies and records sharing.

The idea has come up now because Greenfield is in the early stages of planning a new station for the police and fire departments, and the dispatch services they will need. If a single dispatch service makes sense, Greenfield envisions hosting the facility in its planned station, with the space, equipment and technological capabilities necessary.

Haigh has taken pains to assert this isn’t empire building.

“This isn’t an invention by the city of Greenfield to say that we want to take over the county. No, we want to be a part of the county. That’s it,” he told The Recorder.

Haigh argues that today towns rely on mutual aid more than ever, and there are often delays in getting information out to departments across the county because of the fractured nature of the current system.

“I think the times are changing for what our jobs are requiring, and the more communication you can have with everyone in our county, the better it will be,” he said.

In a letter to county chiefs, Haigh wrote that the center would have a number of benefits, including improved communication among multiple agencies because all emergency dispatchers would be sitting in the same room, resulting in improved safety for first responders. He wrote that mutual aid requests could also be fulfilled faster, and resource coordination and deployment would be streamlined.

He said that a regional communications center allows for a centralized records management system for agencies to share records and enables real-time mobile communication among all working responders in the county who are logged in at any given time.

We’ve heard few complaints over the years about Shelburne Control, and so there may be an if-it’s-not-broken sentiment among the smaller towns to Haigh’s idea. Just how much such a system would cost will be a key question for smaller towns that should be carefully studied.

Before there was a Shelburne Control state police dispatch service, there was a Franklin County Regional Dispatch Center that had evolved organically from the growing needs of small towns. It was that cooperative that the state police absorbed to form Shelburne Control. Over the years as communications and police work have only gotten more complicated and sophisticated, Shelburne Control has proved its value.

Haigh envisions a return to a more locally run central dispatch service governed directly by town administrators and selectboards and overseen operationally by police and fire chiefs.

We were impressed Haigh has emphasized his goal is to improve dispatching regionwide, not simply for Greenfield to run the show. We hope the study, which could cost up to $65,000, will also start from that premise. It’s possible such a study will find three dispatch systems are just fine, or that it makes more sense for Greenfield and Montague to simply sign up for the state police program.

So we support Haigh’s current proposal: to apply for state 911 money to study his plan’s potential efficacy and ultimately how it might physically fit into Greenfield’s construction plans.

The world is only getting more complicated, and we applaud any effort to keep up with the challenge.