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Taking action: Consolidating 9-1-1 dispatch

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Across the country, governments are investing in efficiency. Motivated by budget crunches, scarce resources, service duplication and the desire to spur economic development, public officials are exploring consolidation, collaboration and other means to better serve their constituents. In this series, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) will highlight efforts to improve government efficiency. Our second installment focuses on Regional 911 Dispatch Centers in South Suburban Chicago.

Everyone knows to call 9-1-1 in an emergency.  While the actual 9-1-1 phone number hasn’t changed for almost 50 years, the technology behind that phone number has evolved rapidly over the past two decades.  The original 9-1-1 dispatch systems, which utilized telephone technology, are increasingly being replaced by Next Generation 9-1-1, which can process text, data, images, and video technologies.  These modern 9-1-1 systems provide superior service to communities, but they come with a steep price tag.

Small communities often have trouble budgeting for 9-1-1 upgrades, causing this new technology to be inaccessible to many communities. The South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (SSMMA) identified this problem in the early 2000’s and found an innovative and efficient solution: Combine regional 9-1-1 services into one dispatch center, enabling the participating communities to save costs and improve the quality of service.

In 2003, Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) partnered with SSMMA to create regional dispatch centers in the south suburbs of Chicago.  Jackson was able to promote economies of scale for 10 communities by providing discretionary funds to establish SouthCom Combined Dispatch Center and E-Com 9-1-1 Dispatch.  By signing intergovernmental agreements, the communities involved in each of these regional dispatch centers were able to become equal partners, each paying a percentage of the costs based on the call volume that their community creates.

The Village of Lynwood also received support from SSMMA and Jackson, but created a regional dispatch center using a different structure.  Lynwood created a system in which its local police department contracts the use of the village’s 9-1-1 dispatch services with neighboring communities East Hazel Crest and Thorton, resulting in cost savings for all three communities.

In addition to cutting costs and improving technology, these regional 9-1-1 dispatch centers also lead to a more coordinated and efficient response to emergencies.  Small communities would traditionally employ one dispatcher, who was responsible for answering the 9-1-1 calls, dispatching the necessary services, and also responding to office visitors.  The regional 9-1-1 dispatch center structure ensures that there are designated people for each role, allowing “all hands to be on deck” when a serious emergency is called in.  In addition to an improved response in the 9-1-1 dispatch office, the innovation of in-vehicle computers enable emergency responders to share live information, which can increase the efficacy and efficiency of the emergency response.

The success of regional dispatch centers has received attention at the state level.  In Indiana, the state has mandated that each county will consolidate their 9-1-1 dispatch services by 2015.  If successful, this precedent-setting move has the potential to influence other states to follow suit.

The regional 9-1-1 dispatch model has been proven to decrease costs and increase performance quality--a government efficiency no-brainer.  So, how can we apply the lessons learned to other aspects of governance and public service provision?  Beyond the world of 9-1-1 dispatch services, intergovernmental agreements and consolidating county services have proven to be an effective way to promote government efficiency.  For example, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Transportation recently signed an intergovernmental agreement regarding the reuse of soil from IDOT construction projects. The DuPage Water Commission, which manages the county’s water supply, is formed by an intergovernmental agreement between the communities within DuPage County. As a follow-up to our blog on the DuPage Act Initiative, officials are discussing the possibility of pursuing a county-wide contract for mosquito abatement services, which would replace the 36 separate contracts that are currently signed by government entities within DuPage County.  These examples show how many different types of government services can be consolidated effectively.  How can we apply the lessons learned to other government entities?  The possibilities are truly endless.

Curious about other initiatives around the Chicago region and beyond? Take a look at the rest of the Taking Action series.


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