Metro-East News

St. Clair County submits plan for 911 call center consolidation

St. Clair County CENCOM dispatchers work at the 911 call center in Belleville. Under a new state mandate, counties with at least 250,000 need to reduce the number of PSAPs by half.
St. Clair County CENCOM dispatchers work at the 911 call center in Belleville. Under a new state mandate, counties with at least 250,000 need to reduce the number of PSAPs by half. File photo

All 911 calls in St. Clair County will go to one of four locations by next July, depending on geography: The St. Clair County 911 call center, or CENCOM, and dispatching centers at the Belleville, O’Fallon and East St. Louis police departments.

The St. Clair County’s Emergency Management Agency has submitted the county’s plan to reduce the number of 911 answering centers in half.

Under a state mandate, St. Clair and Madison counties have to reduce the number of its public safety answering points, or PSAPs, in half. Plans have to be submitted to the Illinois State Police by July 1 of this year. The consolidations have to be carried out by July 1, 2017.

Currently, St. Clair County has eight and Madison County has 16 emergency call centers.

Madison County has yet to submit its plan to consolidate the 16 PSAPs in the county to eight, according to the Illinois State Police website.

The state 911 administrator must approve 911 call center consolidation plans under the state law.

Under St. Clair County’s plan, submitted this month in order to qualify for state assistance, CENCOM, operated by the county, Belleville, East St. Louis and O’Fallon would keep their PSAPs.

Current PSAPs in Fairview Heights, Centreville, Cahokia and Swansea would be consolidated into the other call centers.

Under the plan, agencies served by Cahokia would be go to CENCOM, including Dupo, which is joining this year.

Swansea is still determining where its 911 calls will go, said Herb Simmons, the St. Clair County Emergency Telephone Services Board executive director.

Centreville’s PSAP would go to East St. Louis’ PSAP, the plan says.

The county applied for a $320,000 grant from the state to help with consolidation costs at CENCOM. If the grant is approved, the state would reimburse CENCOM for the consolidation costs.

In Cahokia, Police Chief Lawrence Purcell, said a meeting still needs to take place about his department’s dispatching duties after the consolidations.

Eliminating Cahokia as a PSAP was a mutual decision, Purcell said. He said there are issues with his location being in a flood plain, not being handicap accessible for the telecommunicators, and the current building not being built to withstand earthquakes. So it would possibly require constructing a new building.

Taking on another municipality’s 911 duties would require adding another console and hiring personnel.

“It came down to dollars,” Purcell said.

Purcell, however, wants to find a way to keep the dispatchers at the police station 24-hours a day.

There currently are six people employed as telecommunicators in Cahokia, but they have other duties such as checking on people who are in the holding cell, posting bond, taking information from people who are reporting incidents, and updating sex offender information, Purcell said.

“We need these people to complete the mission here,” he said.

Fairview Heights and O’Fallon are working on a feasibility study to see how much it would cost to consolidate their PSAPs, and can possibly apply for state reimbursement in the next grant cycle, Simmons said. A previous study found that it was physically feasible.

Even though the state law says a plan to reduce the amount of 911 call centers had to be in place by July 1, there was a deadline of March 31 to request state grant money to help with consolidation costs. The consolidation plan and grant application had to be submitted together, Simmons said.

Simmons said the decision on the four locations that would stay was based on geography and call volumes. He said the decision came about after working with a committee of various police chiefs.

“I listened to them, ran some statistics, what call centers are busiest, where’s the potential growth,” Simmons said.

“By making the ... consolidations, which result in the supplemental closure of four primary PSAPs, the St. Clair County ETSB recognizes an inherit reduction in the number of transfers solely by consolidating geographic like agencies into consolidated centers,” the St. Clair County plan says.

“By reducing the number of PSAP centers, this will also reduce in half the amount of infrastructure that has been necessary to support operations at eight different facilities and allowing these agencies to share network services.”

St. Clair County also said there will be a reduction in duplicated efforts and infrastructures.

According to the St. Clair County plan, the consolidations may even be completed by this July, except for the Fairview Heights/O’Fallon consolidation.

Madison County has yet to provide its plan to the state, said Terence McFarland, the Madison County 911 director.

McFarland said he is not sure when he will file a plan with the state as he is considering requesting a waiver for more time to file a plan and to consolidate.

He said there is resistance from agencies “that want to maintain their dispatch centers, as opposed to bring everything into a PSAP. The way the legislation is written, that could create issues to us delivering calls to those places.”

McFarland said he was considering some options to bring up with his 911 board as well as various chiefs, but would not comment on specifics.

“We want to make sure the consolidations we do here in Madison County are the best for the people we serve,” he said.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

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