Metro-East News

Decision of 911 call center still pending in Swansea

znizami@bnd.com

When ice covered roads in the metro-east in mid-December, 911 calls flooded into public safety answering points. Sometimes when people in O’Fallon called, their call was actually answered by a telecommunicator in Swansea.

How many calls that had been answered ended up being a point of contention in dueling publications put out by Swansea village officials and the St. Clair County Emergency Telephone Systems Board.

The disagreement over how many calls were handled comes as Swansea has yet to decide which PSAP will handle its 911 calls as a state mandated consolidation deadline approaches.

St. Clair County has until July 1 to have the number of PSAPs in the county reduced to four. State law had mandated the number of PSAPs in counties with more than 250,000 be reduced in half. St. Clair County had started with eight PSAPs when the mandate was enacted.

The requirement alone is something that upsets Swansea Village Mayor Ken Mueller, who called it an unfunded mandate.

“I expressed to the governor’s office that I’ve never been so upset about something that has happened,” Mueller said.

Under the plan submitted by St. Clair County Emergency Telephone Systems Board in March of last year, Swansea’s PSAP would be consolidated into either the Belleville PSAP or CENCOM, which is the communications system run by the county.

O’Fallon and Fairview Heights recently consolidated its dispatch services into the O’Fallon location.

Centreville and Cahokia had their own PSAPs, but moved to CENCOM.

Contrary to the (newsletter) article, the current configuration of our system makes it impossible for Swansea to receive rollover calls from East St. Louis, Belleville or CENCOM.

St. Clair County ETSB Executive Director Herb Simmons wrote in response to the Swansea newsletter

In the village’s latest monthly newsletter, Swansea published numbers of how many calls it handled during the Dec. 16 freezing rain event. Those numbers were erroneous, according to the St. Clair County ETSB.

Swansea said calls came into the village at a rate of one call every three minutes on both the emergency and non-emergency calls. Swansea added 26 of the calls had rolled over from St. Clair County CENCOM, Belleville, Fairview Heights, O’Fallon and East St. Louis.

Calls will automatically rollover to another PSAP when a call to a dispatch center has not been answered within a specific time frame. The village used the numbers to argue its own PSAP is important to public safety.

“In a similar region-wide event under the new consolidated 911 system, Swansea’s PSAP will not exist to take those rollovers,” Swansea officials wrote in the newsletter. “It is therefore reasonable to project that in the future, some 911 calls may not be answered as quickly.”

The St. Clair County ETSB then responded. It said Swansea had only 14 calls rollover from other dispatch centers. The calls came from the consolidated O’Fallon/Fairview Heights PSAP.

“Contrary to the article, the current configuration of our system makes it impossible for Swansea to receive rollover calls from East St. Louis, Belleville or CENCOM,” St. Clair County ETSB Executive Director Herb Simmons wrote in response to the Swansea newsletter.

Simmons also pointed out in his response that Swansea received 63 calls during the Dec. 16 freezing rain event, and nine of the calls rolled over to O’Fallon.

Simmons wrote the 911 system in the county worked the way it was designed.

“They put out a newsletter to their residents with some erroneous facts they didn’t research,” Simmons said during a phone interview. “I wanted to set the record straight.”

It will cost us more in the long run.

Swansea Mayor Ken Mueller

Mueller said the numbers reported in the village’s monthly newsletter weren’t necessarily wrong.

“It’s just a way some of this stuff is labeled,” Mueller said. “Maybe we’re guilty of not understanding the terminology.”

“The whole thing was about the ice storm and how calls came in ... from all over the place,” he added.

He said nothing was put into the newsletter in order to make people look bad.

“It’s just pointing out when there’s a crisis like that, … we did get the calls,” Mueller said. “The calls came in whether they’re considered rollovers or not.”

Mueller said the village’s six full-time and two part-time telecommunicators, who are more familiar with the area, do more than dispatch calls.

In its monthly newsletter, the village said the dispatchers also answer non-emergency calls and serve as administrative support for police officers while they’re on the street.

The village says it still needs staff to perform the administrative duties. Without pulling an officer off the street, or closing the police station lobby at times, the cost to the village could increase by $75,000 a year, officials wrote in the village newsletter.

“It will cost us more in the long run,” Mueller said.

According to ETSB statistics, Swansea had 7,281 calls in 2014. In 2015, it had 7,165 calls. In 2016, Swansea had 6,668 calls.

Simmons said if Swansea had its 911 calls answered at CENCOM, the cost would be $10 per incident. CENCOM charges municipalities per incident to dispatch emergency responders. The cost was previously $15 per incident, but the cost has come down because other communities are now using CENCOM for dispatching.

Simmons said outsourcing would save Swansea money on training, as well as staffing.

St. Clair County has until July 1 to have the number of PSAPs in the county reduced to four. State law had mandated the number of PSAPs in counties with more than 250,000 be reduced in half. St. Clair County had started with eight PSAPs when the mandate was enacted.

According to Simmons, no one has lost a job because of the recent consolidations. He said some people retired, but other telecommunicators were hired by remaining PSAPs to help with the additional call volume.

Simmons added St. Clair County has applied for a $374,000 reimbursement from the state, and O’Fallon and Fairview Heights have asked for $602,000 from the state to help pay for consolidations that have taken place.

In order to meet the state deadline, Simmons said he needs a decision by March 1 of where Swansea wants to send its 911 calls in order to properly route calls and give ample time to make the requisite switches.

As the deadline approaches, Swansea said in its newsletter the village is considering its options and will balance its choice with what is economical and efficient.

Mueller said he hopes his board makes a decision in the near future on which entity will take the village’s emergency calls.

“I hope soon,” Mueller said. “I think they need 90 days to switch some of this stuff, which will be another disaster.”

The newsletter went on to say village officials “will comply with the mandate in a way that best serves our residents.”

Madison County requested and received an extension of putting together its consolidation plan. The county has until Aug. 1 of this year to finalize its consolidation plan, and until August 2018 to carry out the consolidations.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

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