County Comment: New Year, New Decade, New 9-1-1 Dispatch Center

County Comment
New Year, New Decade, New 9-1-1 Dispatch Center
By Norman Bassett, Public Information Officer
Washington County, Maryland

In the first week of the New Year, one of the County's long-standing goals, moving the 9-1-1 Communications Dispatch Center to a digital state-of-the-art facility, will be realized.
Director of the Division of Emergency Sacrifices Kevin Lewis said that the center, Washington County's public safety answering point will move into its new location, in a portion of the building on Elliott Parkway near Williamsport that houses the Division of Environmental Management Water Quality Department offices. An unused portion of that building was renovated for 9-1-1 services.
The County began planning for the new center in 2001 along with upgrades to the radio communications system consolidating all radio communications into one. Police, Fire, Emergency Medical Services, and other government operations will utilize a single radio system.
The Center will house dispatchers for all 9-1-1 calls, and will serve County, and City police services as well as fire and emergency services dispatch operations.
The move will improve efficiency in call handling and processing, Lewis said.
All dispatchers will have completed training in Emergency Police Dispatch, Emergency Fire Dispatch or Emergency Medical Dispatch.
Having all three of the call centers in one will reduce response times, he said.
Equipment at the new center meets all of the new national standards for dispatch services. State and Federal grants have allowed for most of the cost involved in purchasing the equipment.
A new public service announcement (PSA) will be appearing on local TV, describing the move, and promoting a non-emergency number for use when citizens need information.
The PSA states, "As always, continue to call 9-1-1 if you have an emergency. During your call a specialist will ask a series of questions in order to ensure you are provided with the most appropriate response to your emergency. Please be assured that while we are obtaining this information another specialist is dispatching emergency personnel. If you need to speak to us about a non-emergency situation, please do not dial 9-1-1, instead, contact us at 240-313-2910. For more information about these changes visit our website at www.washco-md.net and click on Emergency Communications or contact our information line at 240-313-2908."
The new system utilizes an interoperable radio system that will facilitate communication between public safety agencies in surrounding counties as well.
The dispatch center that has served the County since 1975, in downtown Hagerstown, will remain active as the backup for the new center, Lewis said. This will ensure proper communications will be maintained if the new center cannot function.