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Grant awarded for regional emergency communication center study

Date: 8/27/2014

LONGMEADOW– The police departments of Longmeadow, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow, Hampden, and Ludlow have been awarded a $100,000 collaborative grant from the State 911 Department to be used for a comprehensive study for the potential creation of a Regional Emergency Communication Center (RECC) in Hampden County, which, if constructed, will allow 911 dispatchers to answer emergency calls from any of the five towns.

Longmeadow Chief of Police Robert Siano said discussions for the joint venture initially began last year between Wilbraham Police Chief Roger Tucker, himself, and Hampden Police Chief Jeffrey Farnsworth.

“We said, ‘Look, we’re each doing our own little thing right here and it’s really almost getting too much for one person to handle,” he said.

“So, why don’t we put all of our resources and have several people that can handle this and that not one of us is going to be completely blown out of the water like literally when Wilbraham had the tornado go through,” he added. “I’m sure their 911 dispatch was just crazy.”

The $100,000 grant will be used to hire a state certified consultant who will create an analysis of potential site locations, schematic building designs, construction costs, personnel costs, governance, and a review of staffing structure, he said.

“It’s very important in that 911 is a vital tool for all of public safety, not just here, but all over the country,” he said.

Siano stated that a state certified consultant has not yet been hired. The grant was approved on July 31 and the overall project is still in its infancy stage.
    In order to build a RECC in Hampden County, the State 911 Department would have to approve a separate grant in 2015, he said.

A main aspect of the study will be a comprehensive technological cost assessment for the next generation of 911 systems, added Siano.

“911 in the near future is going to be live-streaming video,” he said. “So if you’re out in your car and you witness something serious you can stream a video to 911,” he explained.

Longmeadow Police Captain John Stankiewicz stated in a letter to Town Manager Stephen Crane that the detailed study with a list of recommendations would likely be submitted to the Select Board sometime in the spring of 2015.

“This expert that we hire, who has also done this for other RECC’s, he’ll know, he’ll take into account how many calls each community has, what your population is, how many fire calls you have, how many 911 calls you have,” Siano said.  “There’s really a lot to it.”

The creation of a RECC in Hampden County would likely lead to an increase in public safety operations, preparedness, response, police and fire data sharing, and reduced operational expenditures, he said.

Crane said funding opportunities with state grants under Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration are often tied with regionalization, especially within the field of emergency dispatch.

“It’s sometimes hard to find ways to really continue to provide the same services seamlessly in a regional construct,” Crane added. “One of the things that makes dispatch unique is that the technology has advanced to point where you can be anywhere.”

Every community has its own level of service and a service profile that it likes to meet and sometimes finding the right partners for regionalized endeavors can be a challenge, he said.

“In this particular case the five communities that have been aligned with this really have similar service profiles, levels of services, similar service demands, and so the types of calls and how they are approached are similar enough that a regional dispatch makes sense,” Crane added.

A typical stumbling block found with regionalized efforts is concerns with jurisdiction between participating communities, he said.

“That is not the case here at all,” he added. “The police chiefs and municipal governments that are involved with this process so far have been very good about seeing the benefits of it and working towards it, not trying finding reasons not to do it.”

The State 911 Department grant is funded by surcharges on cell phones and is not tax based, he said.

“It is a recurring, relatively stable source of income for the program,” he added.