Consolidation of emergency dispatch ops

Wabasha and Goodhue counties are considering considation of their police, ambulance, and fire dispach centers. For the most part it is a win win deal, once the dispatchers get trained on the new areas. The problem is the interim time, when they are not yet up to speed as concerns specific local issues. Its also a bit of an ongoing issue, everytime a new employee comes in. Yet, even in the current situation, a new employee is likely not to know the county like the back of their hand.

One could also argue that consolidation also makes the system less robust, as with fewer centers, a disaster at one now takes out two or more areas instead of just one. Yet, the reverse argument could also be applied, as the system by its nature is not really distributed, nor all that easy to rip up and move to a new location should a disaster occur.

In many ways, this consolidation mirrors what the FAA has done over the last 30 years or so. Back in the 70’s, there were flight service stations distributed through out each state, and over time, they consolidated to each cover a larger area. Then in the mid eighties, the push was on to save money, and all of a states FSS operations were consolidated in a single location within that particular states. As of late, for the most part, all of the states operations have been consolidated into one massive system, and that has been outsourced to a private contrator who maintains just a few locations, rather than 50. We’ve yet to see flight service operate out of India, but had the economy not tanked, chances are that was on the long range plan.

Now, from a performance and quality point of view, distributed local operations provide the optimum, but are also pretty spendy due to duplication. Consolidation makes a lot of sense, state wide operations perhaps even more so. There really is not a whole lot of difference once operations no longer function in the immediate area. Privatization, combined with off shore operations likely provide the ultimate in cost savings, but with my experience with the FAA”s privatization of FSS ops, despite the huge savings, the perfomance and quality aspects are greatly reduced. Granted we dont have smoking holes in the ground from aircraft crashes, but I am 100% sure the safety margins are no where near as good as they were during the days of the distributed model. (in fairness though, in-aircraft backup systems have improved multifold, its a way different aviation arena than it was in 1975.

And that brings us back into the police, ambulance, and fire domain… what is an adequate safety margin, that falls within todays economic constraints. My layman’s guess is that a state wide setup would still provide a reasonable level of safety margin, and the cost savings would be huge. Of course, thats a laymans guess, and its also likely one that bean counters would come to sooner or later. The problem is, just like in the flight service domain, there are a ton of intangibles which are impossible to assign a monetary value to, and/or enter in a database such that a dispatchers experience with the immediate area appears much less a factor. Those intangibles provide substantial safety margins from a qualitative pov, but its near impossible to assign them a quantitative value, until something bad happens.

Realistically, in todays climate, the loss of said intangibles will likely be part of public safeties shared sacrifice. Thats probably ok though, 50 years ago, we had tube equipment, and the system was far far away from the reliability and performance both in normal and emergency ops that we have today. Sure, the intangibles do matter, but technology has taken us to a point, where its likely they can go away, and we still have the same as, or better overall quality than we did in 1980, which was light years beyond the 60’s. I think thats a reasonable benchmark bearing in mind todays economy.

Granted emergency services providers wont like falling back 30 years or even 10 years, but the country survived and even prospored during that era. Society can no longer sustain the Cadillac approach, thus regression to an earlier time is likely to happen, and I think with sufficient planning, we will be just fine.

The biggest problem would be the resulting turf wars. Unlike the FAA, where the feds are in charge, counties will fight this left and right… but short of printing their own money, something has to give, and it it means rolling things back it does.

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