, Newburyport, MA

October 17, 2013

Emergency dispatch center is pitiful

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

For years I have been warning area communities about the newest bureaucracy about to be imposed upon them with the creation of a new regional emergency dispatch center located at the Middleton jail under the supervision of the Essex County Sheriff’s office. Fortunately, the communities that decided to enter into an agreement with the new entity are few. Six, to be exact. Unfortunately, the performance even within these six is pitiful.

The smallest of these towns, Essex and Wenham, are having calls dispatched through the center with a varying level of success. I have heard reports of an Essex fire crew being dispatched to a fire in Wenham, along with other errors that put people’s lives at risk. More recently, the towns of Amesbury, Topsfield and Middleton attempted to cut over to the new center. The performance of the new center was so poor that all three communities are back using their existing centers, with existing personnel, which is now being funded by the sheriff’s department at a cost higher than it was when they were working for their local municipality. This center was supposed to reduce cost and increase service, but in practice it has done the exact opposite on both points.

The remaining city, Beverly, should have grave concerns about its plans to transition to the new center and this should be a topic that each city councilor and mayoral candidate should address.

To date, this center has been received grant money in excess of $10M for construction and additional funds for operations. Construction began in 2011 and is still not complete. Critical items, such as a permanent communications antenna, still have not been erected. A back-up facility has still not been identified. From the very beginning, executive director Tom Dubas admitted that he lied about the existence of a back-up facility when he was running a similar facility in Pennsylvania and it appears that has chosen the same approach here. Other advocates of the center refer to the current issues as “smoothing out the system and ironing out any problems that arise.” I think they are much more serious than that and would expect that a $10M facility, paid for with money collected from every cellphone bill in the state, and has been in planning and construction for over 6 years, would have much better performance than this. The service that an emergency dispatch center performs is literally a life and death service and issues with its performance cannot simply be glossed over.

While the money that has been wasted on this center cannot possibly be recovered, the six towns that have committed to the center should get out immediately or at least be sure to protect themselves and not let their local Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) be decommissioned. Once that happens, there will be no way break loose of this monster on the hill.

Keith Lucy