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NC EMS director pushes for dispatch upgrades

The 911 center is not integrated with local law enforcement agencies, and a software overhaul would improve communications

By Chris Berendt
The Sampson Independent

SAMPSON COUNTY, N.C. — With calls for service continuing to grow, the Sampson County Emergency 911 Center needs to be on the same page as local law enforcement and first responders — a software overhaul that can improve communications, while tightening up record-keeping could be the solution.

Sampson County Emergency Management director Ronald Bass said the center has utilized Tri-Tech for its CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system since 1995. With a software upgrade needed, Bass requested a move to Southern Software to be cohesive with local law enforcement agencies.

“It’s been a very good program for us,” Bass said of Tri-Tech. However, last year, the Sampson Sheriff’s Office and Clinton Police Department transitioned to Southern Software for their records management. “The problem now is they have one thing and the (911) Communications Center has another thing — it’s not really integrated.”

The lack of core integration poses safety risks for emergency responders and the public who might come into contact with individuals posing a danger to them. It also leaves the agencies unable to track others’ units on a map in order to provide assistance, share information, see records and add to emergency dispatch reports.

“We have no way of knowing what is in the sheriff and PD’s records and they have no way of knowing what is in ours,” Bass said. “With Southern Software, once that information comes into the 911 Center, that telecommunicator would put the information in and it would go to the responders’ computer. They would see the same information.”

The 911 CAD server and workstations were purchased in April 2010, and it is recommended they be replaced every three years. Warranty on the current hardware is no longer available after May 2016.

“If we stay with our current vendor, we need to purchase the 911 server and the CAD workstations,” Bass said.

To transfer data from the current server to a new one is $2,500. Current annual maintenance with Tri-Tech is $36,417.15, so the total cost to stay with the current vendor would tally $38,917.15 in addition to the new hardware.

The Southern Software would cost $207,843. However, five years of support with Southern would total just over $95,000. where the five-year support with Tri-Tech would cost nearly twice that, just over $182,000.

“In five years, we will have saved $87,081.75 in support,” Bass said.

Either way, new software is needed, county officials said. Bass pointed out that now would be an ideal time for a transition, with the need for improved communication as critical as ever.

A portion of the CAD software, hardware, licenses and mapping is eligible to be paid out of 911 funds. Of the $207,843 software cost and $37,358.23 hardware cost, 911 funds would pay $207,169.35 — Sampson County is set to receive $278,000 in 911 funds — leaving the county to pay $38,031.88.

Taking into account the $36,417.15 annual maintenance cost for the current Tri-Tech system, and the savings that Southern’s maintenance would bring, that $38,000 county-funded figure could come down — possibly to only $3,000.

“Southern Software would solve multiple issues such as core integration with the responders, lower maintenance cost and, most important, responder safety,” the EM director remarked. “I’ve sat through about five presentations — I like the fact they are a local company, their employees own the company and a large amount of surrounding counties (and municipalities) have gone to this software.”

‘Big benefit’ to local agencies

The 911 Center would have the ability, with Southern, to communicate electronically out in the field with those emergency responders.

“Immediately, it would be a big benefit to all the law enforcement. In the future, EMS could go to the same system and fire departments, if they saw fit, could go to the same system,” Bass remarked. “There is a lot of potential for growth here. I think it’s a win-win for the 911 Center and law enforcement or other responders.”

At a cost of $38,000, Bass told the Sampson County Board of Commissioners during a work session Tuesday he thought it was “well worth it.” The Southern Software purchase will be included in Bass’ budget for 2014-15, subject to the board’s final approval during deliberations.

“I think his plan would be to include it in his budget unless you tell him not to,”county manager Ed Causey told the board. “Obviously, if you know you don’t want to do it, tell us and that makes the budgeting process a little bit easier.”

There was no opposition to the plan by the present commissioners, Jefferson Strickland, Harry Parker and Billy Lockamy. Jarvis McLamb was absent and Albert Kirby, excused for a portion of the meeting, was not in attendance at the time. Nothing was officially approved, with Strickland saying the board would take the matter under advisement.

Bass said a move to Southern Software would further assist a 911 Center that has been inundated in recent years.

In 1996, the Sampson County 911 Center, with three telecommunicators working per shift, received 47,880 calls. The calls have risen over time and, in 2013, with four telecommunicators per shift, the call total was at 78,266, a 64 percent increase. The 911 Center has to keep those reports on file for 10 years, with reports 5-10 years old kept in storage and those less than five years old in the center for 24-hour access.

“We’re out of file space,” Bass said.

A records management system will help in that respect, but Bass also pointed to the need for extra personnel to handle the workload, which would require more space. And there simply is no space — for additional 911 lines, for equipment or for more telecommunicators.

“I am asking for permission to look for grants that would help us down the road with this,” he commented. “I would like to explore some avenues for grants to pursue that. We are quickly outgrowing the 911 Center.”

The board voted to permit the Emergency Management and 911 Center officials to pursue grants.

EMS response times reduced

Bass said he did not intend to paint a “bleak picture,” but merely wanted to make county officials aware of the issues with which emergency responders and the 911 Center were contending. Despite some struggles, Emergency Management Services has moved forward, progression the board has assisted greatly.

“I’m not asking for more people. I’m just giving you a picture of where we are,” Bass attested.

In early 2011, after Bass detailed a trend of dwindling volunteers in the county and the threat of local fire departments dissolving, the Board of Commissioners approved funding six additional rescue personnel — three EMT-Paramedics and there EMT-Intermediates — to alleviate an immediate need in the Newton Grove and Suttontown rescue districts.

Another three EMTs were approved months later as part of the 2012-13 budget to help the entire county, notably Clinton and the central part of the county which receives the heaviest call volume. The county currently has 46 full-time EMTs and 22 part-time EMTs. They responded to 9,500 calls in 2013.

In 2011, the average response time to an emergency call in Sampson stood at 12 minutes, 12 seconds. Bass said his goal was to reduce response times to 11 minutes flat. In 2012, bolstered by additional staff, it took 11 minutes, 15 seconds. That inches down further last year.

“I didn’t quite make the goal. It’s 11 minutes and 7 seconds, so I’m off 7 seconds,” said Bass, lauding the board on their efforts. “What you did in 2012 has made a world of difference in EMS. It made a world of difference in our response times, in our patient outcome and I can’t thank you enough for what you did. I won’t say we don’t have issues, but our issues are very, very small.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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