Endless Summer 2018
County’s New Dispatch System Consolidates Services
By Dave Bontempo
An inside look of the new dispatch center and its new technology.
Marty Pagliughi has doubled down.
The Avalon mayor has long said emergency preparedness starts when there isn’t one. Like forming evacuation plans in the summer, when named storms are remote.
Pagliughi, also the director of the Cape May Office of Emergency Management, took that sentiment further in June. That’s when the county’s new central dispatch unit was unveiled at the Lower Township Public Safety Building at the county airport. Faster response times and organization between police, fire and emergency medical units have been touted, along with state-of-the-art technology and cost savings.
This planning realm means installing infrastructure and personnel before floods, motor vehicle accidents or fires occur anywhere in the county.
“Fire responders can see the extent of the blaze before they even get there,” Pagliughi says of the center’s capabilities. “The EMTs can get the medical history of the patient before they reach the scene. Police can see a crime in progress through this video feed.
“This new technology will be very expensive for a single municipal center to install in the future when it’s mandated by the state,” he adds.
But it will probably be less expensive now. The OEM has also thought ahead, moving its offices and dispatch center out of a low spot – the basement of the library in Cape May Court House – to one of highest areas in Cape May County. It sports multiple dispatch positions, 911 capability and a collective resource team.
Three municipalities, Stone Harbor, Avalon and Lower Township, are already participating in the program. Three more municipalities are believed to be close to paying into the system. Even more might join when the center becomes fully operational early in 2019.
“The new center was designed around the latest technology in 911 and communications systems,” Pagliughi says. “The design also implemented the equipment to accept the NG911 [next generation 911]. The center has 16 dispatch positions with an expansion to 26 fully built out. The NG911 will provide video feed from the 911 caller to dispatch and dispatch to the first responders on their MDTs (mobile data terminals).
“After the other municipalities see the enhanced benefits and the large cost savings, they will want to start discussions with us to join the system,” Pagliughi says. “We can only take one municipality at a time. It will take 6-8 months to get each fully up and running.”
Municipalities paying into the system tap an entire county’s worth of resources. While technology is one major lure, the quality of the people handling calls may be another.
“The State of New Jersey implemented the requirement of EMD [emergency medical dispatch] certification in all 911 dispatch centers a few years ago,” Pagliughi says. “The dispatcher must be able to give medical advice to the caller during a medical emergency, such as CPR over the phone while the EMTs are responding. A federal standard requires a minimum of two EMD certified dispatchers on duty in a 911 center 24/7. The new center will have multiple dispatchers able to handle multiple incidents or one large incident that requires multiple agencies to respond. This is the economy of scale that will save the municipalities considerable money in their budgets and provide enhanced emergency service with a much faster response time.”
Additional technology equipment used at the dispatch center.
Technology, from a different direction, has already taxed local response systems. Multiply numerous incidents by multiple number of calls to envision the workload of a dispatcher. Pagliughi says 911 calls to the county have skyrocketed because nearly everyone has a cellphone.
“Consider the frequency of these calls now,” he says. “People don’t realize that 10-15 years ago, if there was a car accident, three or four people would call in to a dispatcher to report it. Now that number is 30 to 40 because everybody can make the call. That starts to get overwhelming for the small-municipality dispatcher. And you have to answer every one. The 39th call might be a separate emergency.
“Overall, this could be true property tax relief for the municipalities if they chose to join with enhanced public safety response times,” he asserts.
Pagliughi says it also could reduce confusion in a major emergency, citing reports of radio failure between the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the Coral Springs Police Department when responding to the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Stone Harbor Mayor Judy Davies-Dunhour strongly supports county-wide emergency management. She views this as win-win, from several perspectives. As an administrator, she says the borough saved money by consolidating dispatch services with Avalon a number of years back.
As a former dispatcher, serving both Avalon and Stone Harbor, Davies-Dunhour sees the benefit of multiple resources.
“In the new building, the dispatchers representing the whole county can be in one room, sitting next to one another,” she says. “If there is a true emergency, everything flows well. If I am a dispatcher, I am sitting there with several other people. If a dispatch call comes in and I’m helping someone, it automatically goes to the next phone call. If one person has an emergency in which someone has to be airlifted to a hospital at the same time someone is calling who lost their dog, both calls will be answered.”
Davies-Dunhour also views this through the lens of law enforcement.
“What happens if you have a single dispatcher and that person gets sick one day?” she says. “You either have to find a replacement or bring a police officer in to perform that role. Now you are one cop down.”
Davies-Dunhour echoes the cost-saving sentiment regarding the quality of trained professionals.
“This is great for all these small tows whose budgets have been decreased,” she says. “This delivers a better level of service and cost savings. In a small town, not only to you have to interview to find a dispatch candidate, but you also have to send them to an Emergency Medical Dispatch class.
The quality of the professional handling these situations can’t be overstated.
“If you are having surgery, do you want the doctor who has done it twice or has done it a thousand times?” she asks. “Here, you have trained, seasoned professionals who are so accustomed to dealing under pressure that it is rote. If there are shootings in a location and someone is notifying detectives or in many other situations you can think of, there is no substitute for experience. If I, as a resident, have an emergency and I am screaming bloody murder for help, I need that seasoned professional.”
Bloody murder rarely comes with a warning. That’s why officials hope to logistically arm their residents.
“I do understand that in New Jersey, with 565 municipalities, that you often hear ‘consolidate this’ and ‘consolidate that,’ ” she says. “They don’t all make sense, but this one definitely does.”
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