A Washington-based consulting firm is recommending the Mat-Su Borough consolidate its two emergency dispatch centers under one roof.
The borough hired ADCOMM Engineering Company to look into how consolidation may help improve communication and efficiency. The company released its final report on Wednesday, stating a standalone organization appears to offer the best fit for the growing area.
Jonathan Owen, Director of Public Safety for the City of Palmer, says there are some challenges with the current system. All 911 calls made in the borough are answered by dispatchers at the Palmer Police Department. Emergencies requiring Palmer police, medic or fire response, are handled by that same dispatcher.
However, Owen says, if it's an emergency that requires Alaska State Troopers, the call is transferred to MatCom dispatch, the center operated by Wasilla Police. MatCom holds the contract to dispatch for Alaska State Troopers.
When there is a call that requires a multi-agency response, it can take several phone calls and the caller may have to explain their situation more than once, according to Owen.
"It takes a great deal of coordination and the two centers really work well together, but I think there may be some efficiencies to be realized with consolidation," Owen said.
Palmer Mayor DeLena Johnson says details regarding a consolidated dispatch center are still up in the air, but as the fastest-growing area in the state, the borough needs to plan for the future.
"As that population expands, you have more of a need for emergency services and no doubt things get more used. I think it's wise to look ahead," Johnson said.
There is a major hitch to the proposal. The consulting firm's findings show consolidation works best with the participation of AST. At this time, the Department of Public Safety commissioner has elected not to participate, says AST Deputy Director Maj. Matthew Leveque.
"The expectations of DPS is we're best served by having a few regional centers where we could provide dispatch services for troopers and other state employees," Leveque said.
AST is working to determine what it would do, if the dispatch centers consolidate. It could mean expanding AST's regional Fairbanks center or building a brand new center in Southcentral, adds Leveque.
The borough has requested a second feasibility study, looking into operations without participation by AST. A new dispatch center would cost more for the borough, especially when personnel such as human resources and payroll, are factored in. Right now, the cities each absorb those costs, says Owen.
The proposal would have to be approved by the Mat-Su Borough assembly and Palmer, Houston and Wasilla city councils.
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