June 4, 2009 Salem News Article

Our view: Making the case for Regional 911

June 04, 2009 05:45 am

Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon and 15 of his North Shore colleagues have thrown the gauntlet down to those trying to scuttle the establishment of a regional emergency dispatch center.

"Parochialism and self-interest have been the impediment to regionalism in Massachusetts for far too long," they stated in a recent letter to Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke.

They want Burke and others at the Statehouse to know that despite the opposition from "a limited number of individuals or groups representing specific interests and bearing few accurate facts," regional initiatives like this one are "at the heart of our ability to sustain valuable services and retain employees during this time of fiscal calamity."

The fact is cities and towns can no longer afford the status quo. In order to maintain vital services, they must come up with more imaginative and affordable means of providing them.

One such service is the dispatching of emergency personnel. Modern technology ranging from caller ID to GPS mapping systems make a central dispatch operation a much more viable option for communities.

Scanlon and his colleagues would like to see uniformed dispatchers replaced by trained civilians, which he says would make more police officers and firefighters available to respond to emergencies and at the same time, in his city's case, save taxpayers $300,000 a year.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, a signatory to the letter even though her city is not currently contemplating membership in the Regional 911 network, observed recently how too many say they favor regionalism, then abruptly change course when confronted with an opportunity to implement it. Change never comes easily, especially to those whose jobs might be affected by it.

Danvers Selectman Keith Lucy has loudly raised some legitimate concerns about the Regional 911 program, which should be addressed during the implementation stage. But even he admits some consolidation of dispatch functions is both warranted and doable.

During town-meeting season this year, some communities opted to proceed with planning for a regional dispatch center while others declined. Scanlon is asking the Beverly City Council to endorse the concept.

Councilors ought to heed his advice. No system is fail-safe, but states as large as California manage with a handful of dispatching centers, and there's no reason a centralized operation can't work here.

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