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updated: 8/29/2012 10:53 AM

Des Plaines 911 center might disband

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The North Suburban Emergency Communications Center, which provides 911 dispatch services for Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Niles and Morton Grove, could be disbanded, longtime Executive Director Sherrill Ornberg said Tuesday.

The 24-hour center, which has been in operation for 20 years in Des Plaines, handles emergency police and fire calls for Des Plaines and Park Ridge, and police calls for Niles and Morton Grove. Its 47 employees include 30 dispatchers, four managers, six supervisors, two information technology staff members and an administrative assistant.

Morton Grove already has decided to leave the cooperative to join Glenview's dispatch center with Niles expected to follow, while Des Plaines and Park Ridge are considering joining with Northwest Central Dispatch System, Ornberg said.

The Joint Emergency Telephone System (JETS) Board, which governs the Des Plaines 911 center, recently authorized a request for a feasibility study by Northwest Central Dispatch System.

Northwest Central Dispatch System's governing board is expected to vote on whether to sanction the study on Sept. 20.

The Des Plaines 911 center's members include the four city/village managers, four police chiefs and two fire chiefs of the respective partner communities. Each member municipality, based on its call load, is responsible for a portion of the overall $5.8 million budget to operate the center.

Ornberg said Des Plaines originally nixed the idea of joining Northwest Central Dispatch in 2010. But the cost of upgrading the antiquated dispatch system and possibly moving the 911 center from Des Plaines City Hall to another location was too much for the communities to bear, she said.

"We have two very large capital expenditures hanging over our head," she said.

The center needs a new computer-aided dispatch system, which would allow for the transmission of text, video, and pictures. The estimated cost is roughly $2 million.

"Ours is more than 20 years old and it's not capable of doing next generation 911 ... but the bigger issue is the space," Ornberg said.

Des Plaines wants to use the current 911 center space at City Hall to house police records. For years, city officials talked about expanding the 20,000-square-foot police station at Miner Street near Graceland Avenue or building a larger police headquarters elsewhere. Plans to purchase land for a new building were scuttled due to budget concerns.

Renovating or building a new 911 facility could cost between $5 million and $10 million, Ornberg said.

"This is a business decision on behalf of the JETS Board to look at other options," she said.

With three communities leaving the cooperative, it may be inevitable that Des Plaines will follow suit. "Even if it were just Des Plaines left, that does not solve either of those (funding) problems," Ornberg said.

Meanwhile, Northwest Central Dispatch has had problems with its new CAD system, installed in April, affecting police and fire response times to emergency calls. In July, the union representing its dispatchers presented a vote of "no confidence" in the agency's management, complaining of stressful working conditions.

Dispatchers have filed grievances, which have not gone to arbitration as yet. They also are going through arbitration on seven mutually agreed upon items related to a previous labor contract, Northwest Central Executive Director Cindy Barbera-Brelle said Tuesday.

She said the delay in response times on emergency calls has been minimized greatly.

"Certainly, we are working very closely with our vendor, the contractor that's installed the system, to resolve any and all issues that we've reported, and they are making progress," she said. "The system is little over 120 days old. Sometimes, there are new issues that are reported."

At a July meeting, some members of the Northwest Central governing board expressed reluctance to add new members until internal organizational issues are resolved. Northwest Central, housed in Arlington Heights, provides emergency dispatch services for about 500,000 residents in the Northwest suburbs.

The feasibility study will help determine whether the agency can take on new members and whether it will need to hire more dispatchers to service the additional communities, Barbera-Brelle said.

Even if the Northwest Central board agrees Sept. 20 to conduct feasibility studies for Des Plaines and Park Ridge, it would take several months before those studies are concluded and a decision to join comes before the JETS Board, Ornberg said.

"Individually, (each) municipality will determine if it's good for their organization or not and if it's cost effective," Ornberg said. "Currently, we have six agencies and they have 22. Mathematically, they are definitely going to be less expensive."

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