By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY – The new Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center in Middleton is officially up and running, and over the next few months the Amesbury Police Department will be preparing to move its communications functions to the new facility.
Chief Kevin Ouellet said the current plan is for police to make the transition to Middleton in late October, and prior to the move he said his priority is making sure the staff is properly trained on the new systems in time for the move.
“We have to train the officers and the IT people, and that’s where they are for the next three weeks, three days a week, eight hours a day,” Ouellet said. “Then it gets brought back to our department, they’ll be training our officers sometime in September.”
When Amesbury transitions in the fall, the city will become one of six charter members using the new, state-of-the-art dispatch facility. Late last month, Essex and Wenham became the first communities to begin using the regional dispatch center for their police, fire and ambulance services. Topsfield and Middleton will soon follow them in the late summer and then Amesbury and Beverly will join in the fall.
Ouellet said it’s anticipated that more communities will opt into the dispatch center in the future, but as the facility gets off the ground the focus will be on smoothing out the system and ironing out any problems that arise. He added that Essex and Wenham have been great in this regard so far.
“They’re kind of learning the system and making small changes as they go along that better fits all of our communities,” Ouellet said.
Once Amesbury and Beverly come aboard, the $10 million, 10,000 square foot regional dispatch center will service more than 80,000 people living in Essex County, only a fraction of the 200,000 people the facility is capable of serving.
The center will also become the answering point for all cell phone calls made to 911 in Essex County, along with a sizable portion of Middlesex County. These calls are currently handled by the State Police.
Since the facility was first proposed in 2009, one of the primary points raised by proponents was that the regional dispatch center would save communities money while providing access to technologies that most towns and cities could never afford on their own.
In Amesbury’s case, it is expected that the switch to the regional dispatch center will save Amesbury $238,125 in this coming fiscal year alone, according to Mayor Thatcher Kezer. The move also allowed the city to eliminate the public safety communications line item from the budget, although some services had to be absorbed into the police budget, including staff for walk-in traffic and prisoner watch.
The existing public safety dispatchers will remain in Amesbury until the time comes for the move, but Ouellet said one interesting change that has already happened is they are now officially employees of the state, and not the Amesbury Police.
“They’re now working under our roof but they’re employees of the regional communications center,” Ouellet said. “Which is a little different for us.”