3 years after deadline, Ill. county's 911 consolidation plan rejected
A state law passed in 2015 required the county to cut 50 percent of its 911 centers by 2016
MADISON COUNTY, Ill. — Three and a half years after the state’s deadline to do so, Madison County’s effort to bring its 911 system into compliance with state law has failed and neighboring county officials say the current system is putting people’s safety at risk.
After a hearing with the state 911 commission went poorly last month, Statewide 911 Administrator Cindy Barbera-Brelle rejected Madison County’s consolidation plan, a legally-required plan to cut 50 percent of its 911 centers.
Madison County is the only county in Illinois that has yet to consolidate its system and the administrator’s decision means it could be another full year before its completed.
Since 2015, the law has required that counties with populations of less than 250,000 and one Emergency Telephone System Board have no more than two call centers or to reduce them by half. The law aims to save costs as the state moves toward a project called Next Generation 911, which would implement technology allowing call centers to receive information like text messages and caller locations from smartphones.
Madison County has 15 call centers. The deadline to reduce or consolidate them to seven was July 1, 2016.
Call centers — also known as public safety answering points, or PSAPs — are facilities equipped and staffed to receive 911 calls. Madison County proposed closing seven facilities including Highland, Troy, Bethalto, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Venice Madison and East Alton and the county’s MADCOM facility in Wood River.
Interim 911 Director Dana Burris did not respond to a request for an interview on the consolidation plan and the county’s plans going forward.
Barera-Brelle and the Illinois 911 Commissions reports cited two problems with the Madison County proposal: its failure to close 50 percent of its call centers, and failures within the technical review of its plan.
Madison County’s MADCOM station, which was proposed to be decommissioned to fulfill the 50 percent mandate, is an unmanned back station that hadn’t been used since sometime between 2014 and 2016. The state found that closing an unstaffed, rarely-used station doesn’t count toward compliance.
The report also said the county’s proposal seemed to add an inefficient point of contact between the emergency caller and responding agency, which is counter to state code which says dispatch calls are supposed to go straight to police.
Neighboring County is Concerned
That’s where St. Clair County officials say they had to get involved.
St. Clair County 911 Emergency Telephone System Board Executive Director Herb Simmons, who the criticized Madison County plan during the hearings in October, said the state’s decision came as no surprise because the consolidation plan attempted to skirt the laws.
He said the Madison County plan to revise its 911 system puts the lives of people on the border between the two counties at risk.
“Our only concern is that residents that share that border between St. Clair County and Madison County receive adequate service,” he said.
St. Clair County has complied with the 2015 law requiring counties to reduce the number of call centers by half.
St. Clair ETSB Assistant Director Brian Whitaker said in the past two years there have been 38 fire or medical calls from Fairmount Park have been mishandled due to issues with incompatible and overlapping systems.
For instance, Simmons said, a cell phone 911 call from Fairmont Park could be fielded by a call center in either Madison or St. Clair County, which don’t broadcast on the same equipment. The confusion may add time and distance to emergency workers’ responses, depending on which agencies are dispatched.
Whitaker said that can make a big difference in response time when minutes matter.
“What we found in Collinsville, State Park and Madison where we dispatch some of the responders and they dispatch some of the responders — because of that border cellular calls can go to either county — there have been several instances where St. Clair County isn’t being notified to send the proper first responders to locations,” Whitaker said.
Throughout the process, Simmons said Madison County has worked to have St. Clair County’s statements removed from the consolidation process. But Simmons said it’s important to raise the issue when people’s safety could be at risk.
“Residents of St. Clair county who either travel through or rely on services of Madison County are not going to be receiving favorable treatment or consistent treatment,” he said. “That’s the sole purpose of this. The system that they’re trying to continue with is not working.
“Is it going to take someone getting hurt, somebody dying or someone’s house burning down to get the proper response here?” Simmons said. “That could happen. That’s a reality.”
Because Madison County has not made itself compliant with the 2015 laws, the 911 administrator ordered it to prepare a new consolidation plan by Dec. 2020, roughly five years after the law went into effect.
The state ordered that the county must close or decommission another call center to meet the required 50 percent cut no later than June 1, 2020, and that no decommissioned center can receive 911 calls in the plan.
The county also was ordered to provide a progress report every month until the consolidation is completed.
©2019 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)