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Pa. city, county, merge 911 services

The city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are finalizing the merger; a call from anywhere in the county will go into a consolidated call-taking center

By Kaitlynn Riely
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The "final step" in a full merger of the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County's 911 services will begin next week, and by mid-September, the full consolidation should be complete, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Mayor Bill Peduto said today.

The two services had already been co-located, at a location in Point Breeze. Currently, calls from the city of Pittsburgh were handled by one call-taking pod, while calls from the rest of the county were handled by another call-taking pod.

The full merger will mean that a call from anywhere in the county will go into a consolidated call-taking center. The 214 employees that make up the 911 staff, including 12 part-time employees who were promoted to full-time employees this spring, will spend the next few weeks training on the technology to handle answering calls countywide.

The consolidation marks a final step in a process undertaken in the county over the past decades, and which Mr. Peduto said will create greater efficiency in response to emergencies.

"The county has really taken the idea of regionalization in shared services and emergency services and run with it," Mr. Fitzgerald said.

The county 911 center handles 1.3 million calls annually, and in May, the center began receiving text messages from cell phones. Currently, customers with Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon cell phones can send emergency text messages to 911. Alvin Henderson, chief of emergency services for Allegheny County, said he expects AT&T customers will be able to use the service soon.

So far, he said, the county has received 153 text messages. A recent one came from a woman who thought her home was being broken into, a situation that he said is "exactly" the reason his center sought text message capabilities.

But cell phones are also a reason the 911 center has faced funding troubles. Mr. Fitzgerald has asked state lawmakers to make changes to the funding formula for the county's 911 system, in part to reflect that calls now come not just from landlines, but from cell phones.

No solution has come from the state, though earlier this year legislation was passed to extend by one year the existing funding formula.

Funding for the 911 center remains a concern, and Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Peduto said they would continue to press Harrisburg for changes to the funding formula, to send more money into Allegheny County's center.

The county has estimated it will require $6.4 million from its general fund to support the 911 center this year.


©2014 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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