Report recommends move to centralized dispatch

A task force of Trumbull’s emergency responders is recommending the town move forward in a centralized emergency dispatch system for the town.

“A consolidated emergency communications center is a logical decision and should be pursued as soon as practical,” the report says. “Some of the preliminary planning has already begun and many of the stakeholders have already agreed to the concept in principle.”

The task force was charged with studying the feasibility of combining dispatch centers from three — one each for EMS, fire and police — down to just one unified center. A report was submitted to the Town Council last Thursday and is available here.

“I think it’s necessary now for our town service,” police Deputy Chief Glenn Byrnes, a member of the task force, said.

First Selectman Timothy Herbst proposed forming the task force and has said that centralized dispatch is one of his main public safety goals for the near future. The task force was approved by the Town Council roughly 90 days ago. The other members of the task force include Long Hill Fire Department Chief Douglas Bogen, Deputy Director of Emergency Management Bill Chiarenzelli and EMS Chief Joseph Laucella.

Currently, EMS has contracted out its dispatch services to regional provider, Southwest Central Medical Emergency Dispatch, CMED, for an annual cost of $50,000. Trumbull’s three fire departments have a dispatch that costs district taxpayers about $600,000 a year. The fire departments are currently looking for alternatives to dispatching service, including contracting with a private vendor.

According to the report, a centralized dispatch would reduce the need for 911 transfer — in effect, improving response times and lowering potential for human technology error. Currently, the Police Department is the primary dispatch center and all 911 calls come in there and then are transferred to fire dispatch or EMS dispatch. The report also explains that sharing a physical space for all three means better and instant communication among emergency branches, and during major incidents, already having one unified communication center.

The change could also mean cost savings by eliminating redundant technology, and eventually reducing the number of personnel dedicated to the dispatch at multiple locations.

The task force recommends keeping the centralized location at police headquarters, by redesigning the current center to accommodate future needs. It would also mean additional personnel for an expected increase in workload.

Town Council member Michael London asked for a rough estimate of what that cost could be.

“There are a lot of variables, but it would be over $1 million for building renovation,” Byrnes said. “Personnel is another variable.”

A proposal to bond roughly $4.5 million to make upgrades to the police dispatch and communications center is set to go before the Board of Finance Thursday night. While seperate from the centralized dispatch report, the upgrades could make the move to unified dispatch easier. Improvement plans in the bond request include upgrades mentioned in the report as necessary for a unified center.

According to the Board of Finance agenda for Thursday night, a bond request for the Police Department radio system upgrades includes $2.8 million for radio system upgrade and enhancement, $1.5 million for building renovation, and $53,400 for technology and computer hardware.

The centralized dispatch report lays out short-term goals, like determining a funding model to be used between the fire departments and the town and assigning a communications director to act as a liaison between all three services and to establish policy and procedures. The study also includes long-term goals, including what Byrnes referred to as “civilian-izing” the dispatch center to transition police employees out of dispatch and into other roles in police service.

“The officers in this position, as it currently exists, serve no purpose that is required for a sworn police officer, and the personnel are far better utilized to bolster the patrol force in the field,” the report said.

The report also notes the possibility of the state pushing for regionalized dispatch between Trumbull and other municipalities.

Byrnes and Herbst told the council that if regionalizing becomes a reality, creating this centralized center would put the town in a better position to do so.

“We have to get our own house in order,” Herbst told the council regarding regionalization. “Long-term it will be on the table.”

Council members said they wanted to look carefully at potential plans.

“This is an important thing for the town, just like the high school renovation,” outgoing council member James Meisner said.