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911: Let’s look at all the options
By Bob Rhoades

I don’t always agree with Mike Stegall on things.  On the other hand when he is headed in the right direction we should all get behind the cause and help in any way we can.  Case in point: the 911 system.  I hope that what I’ve seen written so far has been a consensus vote from all three commissioners.  But we don’t have those facts.

Number one thing Commissioner Mike told the Kiwanis last week was that state funding might go away for 911.  The one thing that we all forget all the time is that State Money might go away for anything at any time.  So when we get this mess cleaned up, there will definitely be another one looming on the horizon.  We must be vigilant.  The monies that the state puts out are usually considered to be seed money till we can get a program running correctly.  The key point is that someone is finally looking down the road more than four months.

911 is a good thing, it gave the people one number to call in an emergency.  Since I was around when it was originally installed in Greenville and Darke County,  I remember a few things from meetings that I attended.  Since that time I’ve traveled the state of Ohio and seen about as many ways things can be done as possible.  Before we go any farther, let’s clarify one thing about the combination of Darke County and Greenville dispatch centers, let’s start here.  911 centers are known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP).  Darke County has two PSAP’s which have duplicate terminals and can transfer calls from one to the other.  At the present time anyone in the city calling 911 for Police, Fire or EMS is routed to Greenville Dispatch’s PSAP by the phone company, Greenville Dispatch operates from the offices of the Greenville Police Dept.  The dispatcher also handles any walk in traffic to the GPD.   The rest of the county and villages 911 calls are routed to the county 911 PSAP located at the Darke County Sheriff’s office.  Having two dispatch centers that are redundant guarantees that 99 times out of 100 one of the PSAP’s will be functional.  Last year the county system went down and in about 15 minutes the county dispatchers had relocated themselves to the city and the transfer was seamless.    All regular phone lines are redundant at both places also.  No calls were missed.  You can make your own decision on whether it should be combined.

The one drawback is that Sheriff Spencer’s budget supports the whole countywide dispatch system as well as the decision making process.  That doesn’t seem fair does it?  The city supports its 911 PSAP.  The 911 center with its PSAP’s and dispatchers should not be coming out of the Sheriff’s budget.  Every entity using it should be paying for it and supporting a 911 board which runs the 911 system.

Thirty years ago, Miami County was faced with the same problem.  The approach they took was to form a 911 board that represented all of the police, fire and EMS departments in the county.  They built a new radio system that accommodated all and built a building to house it in.  The center was started and funded by Miami County with funds from 1/2% sales tax.  All radios of all agencies were replaced at the time of starting as well.  The board instituted a $500.00 fee for any further radios that were added to the system.  This gives a lot of buying power.  It also guarantees that all radios are purchased through the county and programmed there also. It is totally funded to date by the county.  The board is made up of one county police chief, the Sheriff, OSP post commander, one county fire chief, one EMS person, one Twp. trustee and the President of the County Commission.  They hired a director to oversee it and enough dispatchers to operate the whole county including the cities of Piqua and Troy.  Piqua and Troy both have a desk person on their stations most of the time taking non-911 complaints.  This person also has access to the radio system for dispatch of police units.

One of the other problem areas that Mike touched on was what he called Next Gen for communications using fiber optic cable with much of it on the internet.   Fifteen years ago the state of Ohio embarked on a project called the Multi Agency Radio Communications System or MARCS as it’s become known.  It grew into a system that went on line about 7 years ago and offered in the beginning, communications primarily for the Ohio Highway Patrol but soon opened up to other state agencies.  I was involved in this project at the Ohio Department of Health and responsible for development of the talk groups for all local health departments and hospitals in the state.  The backbone of the system is over 200 radio towers all over the state of which there are three in Darke County.  They are tied together with a network of T-1 lines that go from the tower to the State of Ohio Computer Center in Columbus allowing for seamless communications at any point in the state.  A deputy in Darke County transporting a prisoner to Lucasville to the penitentiary could remain in contact with his dispatcher the whole trip.  If he had problems, he could also be in contact with any other sheriff and the State Patrol anywhere in the state.  When the system came on line all 88 sheriff’s departments in the state received a base radio as did all 88 Emergency Management Agencies, local health departments and hospitals.  That equipment is in those offices here but rarely used.

Last year, Mercer, Van Wert, Auglaize and Allen counties in this area put all of their public safety forces on the MARCS system.  What this says is that when Next Gen is mandated in Darke County it will already exist here.  Darke County Health, Wayne Hospital and Burkettsville Fire Dept. will have access to it (Burkettsville because their engine house is in Mercer).  The state will be footing the bill for the backbone of the system.  I’ve been told by some officials here that they think it is too costly.  It does cost for each radio that is on line.  That is how the system was conceived and is maintained.  The big thing is that we don’t have to maintain the system anymore, only our own radios.  To further that concept, the more radios that come on line, the less it should cost each department or service using it.  It is hard for me to believe that if we are going to spend a half a million dollars, we couldn’t get on MARCS and save about half of that because we don’t have to maintain the backbone of the system anymore.  Beyond that, four counties to our north are doing it.  Maybe we should find out how they are doing with it!  We don’t have to continually shoot ourselves in the foot.  Even if we spent the whole bundle, it’s still a good deal because as fast as communications are moving, that platform will be obsolete and the state will have to upgrade the backbone again.  If we are on that system we won’t.  This all has to do with interoperability in times of need.  It allows police, fire and EMS and others to operate on the same platform on different talkgroups (channels) but also to be combined on the same talkgroups if needed.  In a hunt for a fugitive, all responders could be on the same talkgroup.  It stands to reason that If the three counties mentioned can do it, we should be able to also.

The Spillman System, you can see it at, Mike talked about is an integrated data system that allows for a lot of things to happen simultaneously in the car, fire apparatus or Medic Unit.  Simply put it is an information management system, a computer aided dispatch system which already exists in Darke County and a terminal in each car, fire apparatus or medic if needed.  This is already on line with the MARCS system.  All of the stuff that was mentioned is already available here in Darke County and is being used by the State Highway Patrol and Ohio Division of Natural Resources

The Jail problem was, is and always will be just that, a problem.  It’s apparent that we can’t build it big enough, and the restrictions placed on the sheriff to maintain it won’t get any better either.  The problems that exist there now are a perfect case of not having to accepting the low bid, but that is water under the dam.  If it has to be funded, then that should be a permanent tax that goes on and can support itself.  Fees for prisoners should be charged and no sunshine be allowed to hit their faces until the fees are paid.  Yup, that is a Catch 22 deal.  If they can’t get out, how are they going to make money to pay it?  Probably ought to think about that beforehand.  Maybe it would be a detriment, do you think?  The commissioners are right; they must get ahead of it, but let’s do it as efficiently as possible.  There are a lot of options out there; we really don’t have a choice but to look at every one of them.

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