Porter County Sheriff's Department

What's Happening at The Porter County Sheriff's Department


Lake County Visits Porter County 911 Communications Center

Inside the Porter County Communications 911 department at the Sheriff's department recently in Valparaiso, dispatchers take 911 calls.
(Leslie Adkins/Post-Tribune)


Gary on board first for consolidated 911 center
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 users.

Lake County's consolidation plan is still in the planning stages, but the commissioners' consultant, Jim Bennett, said the new operation will require fewer dispatchers.

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 than 100.

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, Bennett said.

"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 fold.

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 road.

While Lake County's consolidation is just taking form, its neighboring county has already completed much of the process.

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.

Streamlining services

There are a lot of things to watch out for in Lake County, said Indianapolis' 911 project manager Dan Hughes.

"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 once."




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