Greenfield eyes countywide emergency dispatch center

  • Shelburne Control mid-night Supervisor Wendy Snow takes a phone call at one of the work stations within the dispatch center.Recorder file photo

  • Cindy Hunter of Gill works at Montague Dispatch.Recorder file photo

  • Sara Guidaboni and Mark Lavin, rear, in Greenfield Dispatch Center.Recorder file photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/27/2017 11:18:50 PM

GREENFIELD — The town is once again looking into the possibility of creating a countywide Regional Emergency Communications Center with the goal of improving communication between departments, safety of first responders and record sharing between agencies.

The Greenfield Police Department is applying for a grant from the State 911 Department to pay for a feasibility study on the creation of the center, which would include the towns of Greenfield and Montague. All towns in Franklin County except for Greenfield and Montague currently receive dispatching services from Shelburne Control, which is funded through both State 911 and State Police budgets and hosted by the State Police in its barracks on the Mohawk Trail.

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh said a regional dispatch center would improve safety for first responders, communication between agencies and record sharing by unifying the county’s three separate dispatch centers — Greenfield, Montague and Shelburne Control — under one roof. He said with plans for a new public safety complex in the works, which would house Greenfield’s police and fire departments, now is a logical time to begin looking into the creation of a regional center that could be included in the facility.

“When Deputy Chief Williams and I began looking at proposed design plans for this building, we realized that we could have the opportunity to incorporate into the design of the new building a modern emergency communications center with the space, equipment and technological capabilities identified as necessary for a county-wide RECC,” Haigh wrote in a letter to Franklin County police and fire chiefs.

Speaking by phone, Haigh stressed that the idea is not an attempt by Greenfield to take over the county or eliminate any jobs. Rather, he said by having a single point of information, the safety and response time of police, fire and EMS personnel could be significantly improved.

“Quite frankly, Greenfield, on the emergency side of things, we’re on an island. That doesn’t make sense to me to be on an island and have the rest of the county around us on a separate island,” he said. “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.”

Currently, Haigh said there are often delays in getting information out to departments across the county because of the fractured nature of the current system.

“How do we get everybody under one centralized regional communications center where when you dial 911, it goes to one place?” he said. “The interoperability, the communication all comes from one central area. No more jumping around to different agencies — that’s what I’m looking for. That’s what the county should be looking for.”

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, which currently uses Shelburne Control for some of its operations, would also be served by the center.

State Police spokesman Dave Procopio said his agency is aware of the idea, but will not be commenting until more information is available.

“Our Shelburne Communications Center provides excellent public safety dispatch services to the communities in its region,” he said. “We are aware of the proposal that calls for a study into the need for a regional dispatch center based in Greenfield. We reserve comment until more information is available regarding the need for and feasibility of such a facility.”

Greenfield has considered the idea of a regional dispatch center in the past.

In 2008, members of the town’s Public Safety Committee met with Sheriff Christopher Donelan, who was a local legislator at the time, to discuss the possibility of funding the construction of a public safety complex that would house the police and fire departments, as well as a regional emergency operations center and a regional dispatch center controlled by local agencies.

The town considered the same in 2010, when the Franklin Regional Council of Governments sought money to study whether Shelburne Control’s dispatch functions could be better handled by a county-run entity. At the time, Mayor William Martin said he would like to see a regional emergency dispatch center as part of a new public safety complex.

Haigh said a lot has changed since then — particularly mutual aid, which police departments rely on more than ever.

“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 his letter to county chiefs, Haigh wrote the center would have a number of benefits, including improved communication between multiple agencies because all emergency dispatchers would be sitting in the same area, 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 and more efficient.

“Police commonly have incidents or investigations which take them into neighboring towns and require immediate assistance, and I believe that this assistance would be more reliably and consistently secured if a single communication point is in use,” he wrote.

During major incidents, when all of a town’s resources are committed and outside help is needed, critical information needs to be communicated to surrounding towns.

“Franklin County has had some devastating fires in the past year, and all of us know the kind of demands that are put on a dispatch center during a working fire call, hazmat situation or mass casualty incident,” Haigh wrote. “I am convinced that by having a county RECC, it would ensure the added help will be available that is not always there right now, help that the first responding officers or firefighters might not know that they can even ask for.”

He wrote that another benefit of forming a regional communications center is the opportunity to create a combined and centralized Records Management System, which would allow agencies to share records and enable real-time mobile communication among all working responders in the county who are logged in at any given time.

Haigh said there is also a push on the state level for towns to consolidate emergency services across Massachusetts. In his letter, Haigh wrote that with the introduction of NexGen 911, which allows digital information, including voice, photos, video and text messages, to flow from the public, through the 911 network and on to emergency responders, wireless 911 calls will likely be directed away from State Police call takers to local dispatch centers. He wrote Greenfield has already submitted an application to the state for Greenfield’s current center to answer 911 wireless calls.

Greenfield’s grant application for the feasibility study is due to the state May 15. As part of the application, the police department has asked for letters of support from Franklin County towns, stating they agree to participate in the study if one is approved. Haigh said the letters do not commit towns to join the proposed communications center, nor do they require any financial commitment. Rather, the letters should simply state the towns agree that the concept is worth looking into.

Haigh said his department has already received several letters of interest from surrounding towns. If Greenfield receives the grant, which is capped at $65,000, the study will go out to bid. Haigh said he hopes the study will determine the size needs of the facility, the equipment and technology needs, the number of staff and the optimal management structure within the center, among other questions.

“What can we do with three different agencies to bring them together to be one great product for the county, and is that possible? That’s what this feasibility study will hopefully show us. And if that’s not possible, what is?” Haigh said. “My main concern is public safety and how we can get everybody to essentially say we should be in the same sandbox and playing together, because it makes sense for every department in the county that handles public safety. I’m not saying any one of us is any better or any worse, I’m just saying we’re fractured.”

He said he has no interest in managing the Regional Emergency Communications Center, and said the facility could have a management board overseeing it, likely made up of town managers or selectboard members. Haigh wrote that he also foresees it having a supervisory operations board made up of chiefs.

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