NEW PORT RICHEY - Each second of a 911 phone call is precious. In some cases, it can be the difference in a caller surviving. That belief has been the driving force behind a project to combine "call takers" and dispatch members from Pasco County Fire Rescue and the five law enforcement agencies that patrol the county. The Consolidated Communications Center is scheduled to begin operation by Oct. 15.
"If you ask people that call 911, they don't care who comes," Capt. James Mallo of the Pasco Sheriff's Office said. "They don't care if it's a blue uniform or if it's a green uniform or if it's a white uniform. They don't care who comes just as long as their problem is taken care of." The Pasco County Sheriff's Office patrols the entire county, but certain municipalities - Dade City, New Port Richey, Port Richey and Zephyrhills - have their own police departments. They also have their own 911 call takers and dispatchers. A call taker fields the initial call, while the dispatcher takes the information gathered by the call taker and contacts either the deputy or fire rescue unit that will respond to the scene. It is the county's hope that everyone will join in the consolidation efforts. Thus far, Dade City is on board, New Port Richey is likely to join, while Port Richey and Zephyrhills are conducting research on the issue. Agencies that join the consolidation will have their patrol vehicles fitted with a tracking device and computer software, allowing dispatchers to see from their computer screen where an officer or deputy is located. When a call for help comes in, the nearest unit can be sent. "The reason I've been a proponent of this is, it just makes sense," Dade City Police Chief Ray Velboom said. "We are surrounded by the sheriff's office. We have a tremendous relationship with the sheriff's office . I've heard numerous times where the sheriff's office will be in a neighborhood adjacent to the city and the deputy needs a backup and they're bringing in deputies from two or three zones away and I've got an officer a block away. So why are we doing that? Let's work smarter." Working smarter also means taking less time to gather and disseminate information. Currently, when a call comes in to the county 911 center, it is answered by a call taker from fire rescue. If the person needs help from law enforcement, the operator must transfer the call to a law enforcement dispatcher. That means a caller will have to give basic information at least twice before a deputy is dispatched to their home. If the caller needs fire or medical assistance, the original call taker handles the call. Dispatchers from each of the municipalities - eight from Pasco, four from New Port Richey, about six from Zephyrhills - will be offered jobs at the consolidated center in New Port Richey. Those who choose to make the move will be trained to answer calls for both fire rescue and law enforcement, eliminating the need for calls to be transferred. Velboom said the consolidated center will grow to 82 dispatch positions. If someone calls from a cellphone in one of the municipalities, that call goes to the county's 911 center and is then dispatched back to the municipality where the call originated. That again means someone in need is made to repeat the information they gave to the original call taker. It also heightens the risk of a dropped call because of the transfer or even spotty cellphone coverage. The county has set a budget of $6.1 million and thus far the consolidation is below that number, emergency 911 operations manger Jody Kenyon said. Each agency will have a representative on a Consolidated Communications Board. Although the county will oversee the consolidated center, each municipality will have input on center operations. Dona Fernandes, who has worked as a consultant to assist the New York City Fire Department with the CAD, or Computer Aided Dispatch system, among other jobs, was hired to be the Public Safety Communications director of the consolidated center. She'll start in August. Captain Robert McKinney of the Zephyrhills Police Department said his department is currently in a fact-finding stage with consolidation. "We are looking into it and hopefully we'll be coming through some of these meetings very shortly with some type of a decision for our particular city," McKinney said. Zephyrhills City Council president Lance Smith is enthusiastic about the possibilities of the new level of collaboration. "I think it's something that could be favorable for all residents in Pasco County," Smith said. "I'm very concerned with the safety of the residents and if it can help improve communications and safety then it's something we have to look at." firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 371-1860 Twitter: @EDanielsTBO