Gary on board first for consolidated
September 7, 2010
By Chelsea Schneider Kirk
The 911 call came in just before noon: A man, 55, with
diabetic complications at a Chesterton Nissan. It rang
on all screens at the Porter County Sheriff's
Department's emergency communications center. A
dispatcher, also listening to the Portage Police
Department's radio channel, picked up the call and
within seconds, sent a Burns Harbor fire crew to respond
to the scene.
That orchestration is what Porter County Communications
Director Dave Sheibels calls the benefit of a
consolidated call center and what he says Lake County
can anticipate as the county begins the process of
streamlining its 18 dispatch sites.
The Indiana General Assembly passed a law requiring
counties to consolidate their dispatch centers by 2014
in a bid to save money and relieve municipalities of the
cost of running the operations. The consolidation is
paid for by levying user fees on landline and cell phone
Lake County's consolidation plan is still in the
planning stages, but the commissioners' consultant, Jim
Bennett, said the new operation will require fewer
Lake County has up to 80 key frequencies that require
monitoring 24 hours a day. With the consolidation, the
number of channels will be cut to about 25.
Bennett estimates 120 to 150 people are employed in 911
operations. He expects the new system will employ fewer
Concerns have already flared about the human toll of the
consolidation. The Cedar Lake Police Commission has
shared concerns over the fate of its dispatch employees,
"There's concern that they have two very good employees,
and they don't want to see them lose their jobs,"
Bennett said, "and I don't blame them. No one wants to
see people lose jobs. ... This is not something I want
to do. It's something I'm mandated to do."
Bennett said the county's current dispatchers will be
able to apply for jobs with the combined service.
Lake County's plans initially called for the
consolidation to begin with a handful of small towns
across the county. But that was before Gary, the
county's largest city, requested to be brought into the
Now, the financially fraught city will be one of the
first sites in the consolidation with testing beginning
next year, Bennett said. But the transition isn't
without complications; Gary and Hammond are the two
sites of the 18 that use different radio systems.
Along with bringing on Gary, finding where to house the
consolidated communications center is also on the
county's to-do list.
Bennett said operations won't be located at the Lake
County Sheriff's Department because of limited space.
He's looked at several public and private sites
throughout the county but said a decision is down the
While Lake County's consolidation is just taking form,
its neighboring county has already completed much of the
Porter County's consolidation was more of an organic
process. Its two major call centers besides the
sheriff's department, Valparaiso and Portage police
departments, transferred their operations in the last
three years. Unlike plans in Lake County, all employees
from the two cities' dispatch centers were absorbed by
the consolidated operations.
"Consolidation around the country is nothing new,"
Porter County's Sheibels said. "You can look through any
state and find all kinds of consolidation. The big
underlying reason here is efficiency. You have all the
agencies in front of a single operation. When things
happen and especially when it's a combination of police,
fire and EMS needing to respond to a single event, it's
so much more efficient to have all those agencies under
one dispatch center."
Before Valparaiso came online, county dispatchers used
to have to transfer some calls to the city police
department or try to relay information.
There are a lot of things to watch out for in Lake
County, said Indianapolis' 911 project manager Dan
"It certainly doesn't affect Marion County that much.
Radios were all interoperable to start with," Hughes
said. "I can take my radio and talk to any officer in
Beech Grove, Lawrence, Speedway or the state police.
However, when I drive to Lake County and talk to
Hammond, they've got to know I need to talk to them. I
can't dial directly to talk to the group."
Hobart Police Chief Brian Taylor said his department
looks forward to getting on board with Lake County.
Hobart has nine full-time dispatchers who work out of
the police department.
"It's a good idea to get on the boat early and get a
good seat," Taylor said. "I think it's a great idea, I
really do. I think it can streamline services."
Sometimes under Lake County's current system, callers
can be routed to the wrong location. Taylor said the
consolidation will help with multi-jurisdiction
responses to emergencies and improve communication among
the public safety community.
"We're a busy city with a busy police department,"
Taylor said. "We have two (dispatchers) working per
shift, and with only two dispatchers, I wouldn't say
they get overwhelmed just extremely busy with police
matters. It's hard for them to handle everything at