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Column: Shared system would add layer of safety

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Calls to the police don’t stop, even when a dispatch center has an emergency of its own, such as a fire or power outage.

Usually, emergency calls are sent to a dispatch center in another county, where they are mixed in with that county’s calls. But Johnson County 911 Executive Director Mike Watkins said nine central Indiana counties have found a way to separate those calls, get assistance to the residents faster and save money.

The Johnson County Commissioners are considering purchasing a phone system from AT&T that the county will share with other central Indiana counties.

If approved, the nine counties would pay a total of $25 million for the system over the next 10 years. Of that, Johnson County would pay $2.1 million over 10 years to install and maintain the equipment and train staff members, according to Watkins. The county received a grant to pay for more than $300,000 of that cost, and the rest of the money will come from 911 fees, which are added to monthly cellphone and land-line phone bills.

Watkins said the shared system will allow the counties to send 911 calls to various dispatch centers in the case of an emergency. For example, if the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center were unable to answer calls, the equipment could be programmed to send calls from residents in the eastern part of the county to the Shelby County dispatch center and calls from residents in the western part of the county to the Morgan County center.

Dispatchers at those centers would answer the calls until Johnson County dispatchers can arrive to answer them. Once they are at the centers, the Johnson County dispatchers would be able to log into the computers and start answering the calls like they would at the Johnson County center.

“You can set up a dispatch inside of another dispatch center,” Watkins said.

He said having the calls go to separate centers and not mix in with those centers’ calls will allow emergency officials to assist the residents more quickly. Because the counties share equipment, they will not have to each buy their own, which saves them thousands of dollars each, he added.

Watkins said the counties want to start using the system next year.

Problems within a dispatch center can delay emergency responders. But a shared system that would allow the counties to send 911 calls to various dispatch centers in the case of an emergency is a solid investment in safety.

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