March 12, 2009 Salem News Article

$6.8M grant to fund construction of regional 911 center

By Chelsey Pletts

Note: This article has been corrected. The statewide grant was for $7.4 million. Also, Danvers has two dispatchers on duty at a time.

Construction will begin soon on an emergency 911 call center in Middleton thanks to a $6,803,000 state grant.

Officials made the announcement yesterday at the Danvers fire station. The funding is part of a $7.4 million grant for 12 projects statewide that will consolidate emergency dispatch. The local center will be built on property adjacent to Middleton Jail on Manning Avenue.

The temporary modular building, which will house 14 call-taking stations, will provide enhanced 911 and emergency police, fire and EMS dispatch services to 13 communities in Essex County. The call center will be managed by the Essex County Sheriff's Department.

Later, the department hopes to expand the operation into a larger, permanent dispatch center in the same area, said Danvers police Chief Neil Ouellette.

Danvers was a fitting location to announce the project. Responding to the Danversport chemical plant explosion in 2006, dispatchers in the police station realized their system, often run by two dispatchers on duty at a time, was not sufficient, Ouellette said.

"We need a robust infrastructure that can handle multiple kinds of disasters," he said. "It is clearly not feasible with a one-person dispatch center."

The grants were awarded by the state 911 Department and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

"It's the dawn of a new era of how we approach emergency communication," said state Public Safety and Security Secretary Kevin Burke.

Consolidating the dispatch centers will also save money, said Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis.

"This is an excellent move when every nickel counts," Marquis said. "We will see savings in the next fiscal year of 20 to 25 percent."

Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins said the money "will be used for capital expenditures," such as the cost to build the new center. The money will be received in two phases to complete the building. The first amount, $4,943,000 received on Monday, will allow construction of the facility to begin immediately. The second amount, $1,860,000, will be awarded within the next fiscal year to complete the center.

"The facility will be a secure building and will have auxiliary power," Cousins said. "It will contain a radio system, as well as a CAD system, a piece of equipment where you come up on the map when you call 911."

The call center will serve approximately 215,000 people in Danvers, Essex, Manchester, Methuen, North Andover, Topsfield, Wenham, Beverly, Ipswich, Marblehead, Middleton, Swampscott and Hamilton.

It will be up to the 13 communities and the sheriff to determine how the process will be set up for adding towns to the call center's roster, Ouellette said.

Asked what consolidating 911 operations would mean for those currently working as dispatchers in the towns, Ouellette said the ongoing goal has been to "take the exceptional people working in the dispatch areas and move them to the new state-of-the-art facility."

The Middleton center is expected to be up and running in a year to 18 months.