More than six months ahead of a state-mandated deadline, a 911 call center in Fairview Heights has been successfully transferred to O’Fallon as St. Clair County moves closer to being in compliance with a statewide reduction in 911 call centers.
Staffers who used to work out of the Fairview Heights Police Department have been transferred to the O’Fallon call center, and the emergency calls they used to handle started being routed through O’Fallon on Thursday. Four full-time dispatchers and several part-time employees recently made the move to the O’Fallon location, said Lt. Mike Hoguet with the Fairview Heights Police Department.
Hoguet said the public shouldn’t notice any difference in officer response times now that Fairview Heights calls are being handled in O’Fallon, which also handles emergency calls from Shiloh.
St. Clair County has until July 1 to cut its number of call centers from eight to four. St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency Director Herb Simmons said the county has just one final call center to consolidate. Swansea has yet to decide what it is going to do with its emergency call services. Simmons said Swansea officials are deciding between having CENCOM, which is operated by the county, or Belleville handle its calls. The other call center in St. Clair County is located in East St. Louis.
Simmons said it cost an estimated $800,000 to move Fairview Heights’ calls to the O’Fallon center. He said he will be applying for a state grant in an attempt to recoup those moving costs. Getting all of the pieces of the puzzle to fit in a short time wasn’t easy, Simmons said.
“One of the first things I did when I took over (as EMA director) was put together a committee of police chiefs and come up with a (call center plan) for the county,” Simmons said.
Simmons credited the work of those police chiefs for making the transition as smooth as possible.
“We are way ahead of schedule,” he said.
Hoguet said Fairview Heights officials had been working with O’Fallon for nearly a year to get everything in line for a smooth hand-off.
“Everyone came together to get it done,” Hoguet said.
One of the things that will make Fairview Heights’ transition easier is the fact that it already used the same Computer-Aided Dispatch and Records Management Systems that O’Fallon uses, Hoguet said. As a result, there was no need to train the former Fairview Heights dispatchers on a new system.
O’Fallon Police Chief Eric Van Hook said in an email to the News-Democrat that the O’Fallon call center has 17 full-time equivalent telecommunicators. A dozen of those are full-time employees, while the other five are made up of part-time employees. Van Hook said the consolidated center is expected to save money. The annual cost to run separate call centers in O’Fallon and Fairview Heights was $1.88 million. The predicted operating budget after the consolidation is $1.26 million.
In February, the state mandated that counties with at least 250,000 residents reduce their number of 911 call centers, also known as public safety answering points, by half. For St. Clair County, that meant consolidating its eight PSAPs to four in less than 18 months. Simmons said St. Clair County was one of the first in the state to submit its plans to Illinois State Police. As a result, the county has been able to work well ahead of the deadline.
While consolidation plans are moving ahead in St. Clair County, Madison County officials in October were granted a waiver allowing it to delay filing its consolidation plan until Jan. 1. Judge Jan Von Qualen, a state administrative law judge, also ruled that the requirement that Madison County 911 consolidate should be waived for a period of one year after it files its consolidation plan.
Madison County currently has 16 PSAPs scattered throughout the county and housed at police departments. Madison County officials argued that consolidation posed a substantial threat to public safety, was economically unreasonable and technically infeasible.