911 upgrade must include an evaluation of personnel
As Mahoning County creates a "communication pathway for the next decade," in the words of Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock, we would remind officials that without people there can be no communication.
The people we're referring to are those involved in the county's emergency telephone service system, which the county commissioners are looking to upgrade.
Sherlock and her colleagues, Edward Reese and David Ludt, have hired RCC Consultants of Edwardsville, Ill., to direct an overhaul of the 911 system. RCC has already determined that the central headquarters in the county administration building on West Boardman Street is too small and that the equipment is outdated.
"It's past its life cycle and living on borrowed time," says Bob Stuphen, RCC Midwest regional manager.
Last year, when the commissioners hired the company to review all the radio systems used -- the study was sought by area police and fire chiefs -- we expressed the hope that RCC would endorse moving the central headquarters into the Justice Center.
Consolidation: When the center was built more than five years ago, a room was designed to house a communications network. But because of politics and a refusal by individual community 911 answering stations to agree to consolidation, the central headquarters project stalled.
Now, county officials say that while RCC officials have met with representatives of police, fire and ambulance agencies and will be meeting individually with all agencies that use the 911 system, there is no plan to shut down individual answering stations. Thus, local dispatching centers and their staffs will be left alone, while the centralized dispatching center will be for county operators.
It is unclear whether the compromise was reached to pave the way for the county to move forward with the more pressing issue of equipment.
But just because consolidation isn't going to become a reality in the near future, it doesn't mean the idea lacks merit. Likewise, there is no reason for the personnel involved in the 911 system to escape close scrutiny.
This is an opportunity for commissioners, with the help of RCC, to determine the qualifications, training and effectiveness of the call-takers and the supervisors.
How does Mahoning County's telephone emergency personnel stack up against those in other counties? How do the training programs compare? Is there anything that is being done in other successful counties that would help make Mahoning County's system more efficient?
These are some of the questions we hope will be answered as part of the upgrading of the 911 telephone emergency system.