Centralized 911 call system planned for Westfield
Date: 8/9/2011 Aug. 10, 2011
By Mike Briotta
WESTFIELD The Westfield Police and and Fire Departments met with Verizon New England officials Thursday to discuss routing all of the Whip City’s emergency phone calls through the municipal technology center.
The goal of the state-mandated switch to a centralized call center is to respond to crises more efficiently.
Currently, all 911 calls in Westfield are answered at the police department, so any fire department and Emergency Medical Services calls that come in have to be transferred.
Police Captain Hipolito “Paul” Nunez, who oversees administration and computer systems technology at the Police Department, is working on the changeover.
“We’re going to be coming into a new age in the Westfield Police Department,” he said. “Currently, the Police Department houses the [phone] dispatch including medical and fire calls. Within the next year, we’re going to combine everything into a centralized dispatched facility. This technology center is a combined effort. It will create a different department.”
He continued, “I’m set to meet [Aug. 4] with state officials at the technology center to discuss this further. The technology center was built four to five years ago with the mindset of that building also receiving emergency calls.” The city’s technology center is located at 179 Apremont Way,
Fire Chief Mary Regan also sees potential benefits in having all 911 emergency calls handled by a centralized hub.
“A couple of areas could see immediate improvement,” Regan said. “Emergency medical dispatch is the first area. A trained dispatcher would be able to provide you with emergency medical instructions over the phone while we’re en route to help. For example, if you’re having an emergency the dispatcher would be able to instruct you in starting CPR.”
Such additional information provided to 911 callers could potentially save lives in emergency situations.
The fire chief continued, “The second benefit is that this centralization of 911 calls would free up the member of the Fire Department who would otherwise be taking emergency calls it would bolster our number of available personnel These people could instead be assigned out to our ‘apparatus floor’ in order to respond directly to an ambulance or fire call.”
Regan said that the police department would most likely apply for state grants to offset the costs of centralizing the town’s 911 calls at the technology center. The timeline for establishing the new 911 hub varies from starting in January, 2012 to the beginning of Fiscal Year 2012 in July.
“It’s still in the planning stages at this point,” the fire chief said. “The facility is there, so it’s really just about putting in the phones and having everything ready to go.”
The enhanced 911 program in Massachusetts is funded by a surcharge on all land-line and wireless telephones. The state created a Wireless Enhanced 911 Fund in 2002 to help pay for costs associated with compliance.
Dispatchers and call-takers that answer enhanced 911 calls are required to be trained and certified.
Mayor Daniel Knapik said the new emergency call hub would be a boon to Westfield residents. He said the full cost of the project has not yet been determined, although he agreed that some expenses from the move could be offset by state grant funds.
“There are huge benefits to this,” Knapik said. “It brings to all citizens a modern medical dispatch capability. It’s also a state law, so you have to go this way. The law says you have to be up and running by July 2012.”
Another upgrade, according to Knapik, will be the addition of being able to text your emergencies to a new call center. That function is currently unavailable, according to the mayor, although a TDD service for the hearing impaired is currently offered in Westfield.
While a state-imposed deadline of July is the cutoff for the move, according to Knapik, the switch to a new call center could begin ahead of schedule.
“If we’re up and running sooner, there’s no reason to hang onto the current call center,” he said.
Knapik added that the technology center was originally constructed with this changeover included as part of the plan. “We built a technology facility with the dispatch center in mind,” the mayor said. “So there’s no new build-out costs for this.”
He added that the new call center would be staffed by two dispatchers and a dispatch supervisor. Knapik said switching to a centralized 911 hub would free up a total of four firefighters from their current phone dispatch duties.
The mayor concluded: “This is another action by the city government to save money, comply with state regulations and make the best use of firefighters where they are needed.”