COMBINED DISPATCH

Consolidation carries a negative connotation in that is most always conflated with job loss. But when correctly executed, the merging of two entities can provide a solution producing results which are greater than the sum of its parts. Unifying separate, but not necessarily disparate, bodies serves a purpose: it eliminates resources that overlap, and are thus redundant and wasteful. The result is an environment in which resources originally marred by inefficiency are now free to be appropriately allocated in a manner which has the potential to greatly increase productivity. In other words, through consolidation, previous inefficiencies are reduced so they may be used to provide a much better product or service.

Once the subject of job loss—usually the first and most obvious argument given by opponents—is addressed, the attention more publicly shifts to the structural hierarchy of the newly consolidated entity, e.g. who will oversee whom. In other words, politics enters the mix in a more public forum. This creates, or more likely exacerbates, tensions between factions who, if not direct rivals, have competed at least indirectly for funds, resources and customers.

This is natural. People become used to a a certain environment with known variables like work environment, coworkers’ and superiors’ personalities and proclivities, company jargon, etc. When two separate cultures combine, there is a not unfounded concern of clashing; people instinctively want to protect the environment from which they hail, and this creates distractions leading the newly combined group away from its original purpose, which is usually to incorporate each other’s strengths in order to minimize respective weaknesses. Simply stated, politics should not be a sticking point when the overall benefit is meant to far outweigh the costs.

The above might seem like a generalized piece on the nature of business, and corporate mergers in particular, but it can be applied to governmental services. There will always be debate concerning the correct size and scope of a particular government and its responsibilities. But there are a few services of which the necessity is agreed upon by both conservatives and liberals alike…emergency health and protective services is one such field. Firemen, police officers, and first responders,whose respective job performances rely heavily on one thing: reaction time. The sooner a situation can be attended to, the sooner it can be addressed and controlled.

The often faceless entity that provides these crucial departments with the information essential to performing their duties is called dispatch. Dispatchers are the the people who provide the conduit for citizens to contact and establish what assistance is needed and where it should be sent to. It is not controversial to state that the dispatcher’s role is a vital cog in the emergency services system. What has become a source of contention is whether or not combining the resources of various departments to provide a centralized (and consistent) location from which the proper services can be dispatched more efficiently. Higher efficiency not only leads to higher effectiveness, but also cost savings.

A “Consolidated Dispatch Center Feasibility Study” by Cleveland State University for Cuyahoga County, Ohio determined the following in the study’s abstract:

The findings are that consolidation of dispatch services among the participating communities would reduce staffing costs by an estimated $1.6 million annually. Consolidation of services would reduce the duplication of services and redundant capital projects. This in turn would free up money to maintain and replace capital items…

..Instead of the duplicate purchase of expensive equipment by several communities, the cost of large capital will be distributed over a larger base of beneficiaries…Centralization will reduce the physical blueprint of dispatch operations which in turn should reduce operating costs such as natural gas, electric and maintenance. Given the proposed investment in high quality equipment, facilities, and staff, the level and quality of service provided by a consolidated dispatch center should exceed those currently being supplied.”

Not only would a consolidated dispatch center possibly save taxpayers money, it would allow for the acquisition of better trained personnel, equipment, and facilities. It is difficult to argue against a solution that potentially lowers costs while increasing proficiency. A single study by an out of state University does not guarantee success elsewhere, but the theories are sound. Of course, putting theory into practice is an entirely different mountain to climb; but it is not insurmountable. Consider that the practice of consolidation has been proven to do just what the aforementioned study claims. In Michigan, a City of Flint Administrator Stephen Todd states that, “The first year we consolidated, we demonstrated a net savings of $1 million by eliminating redundant staff and duplicated radio, phones, heat and utilities.”

As technology continues to provide avenues for cost efficient tools that increase effectiveness, it becomes increasingly imperative to both adapt and adopt. The sense of urgency that businesses face when dealing with competitors should also be present when it comes to increasing the effectiveness of a community’s emergency services. First addressing and then mollifying political and interdepartmental infighting will go a long way to providing taxpayers with the services commensurate with their payments. Improving capabilities to serve, protect, and save lives is something that every party can support. Saving money is a bonus.

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