E-911 Officials Discuss Funding with Sen. Ritchie

Sen. Patty Ritchie gets a tour of the E-911 Center from E-911 Director Mike Allen.
Sen. Patty Ritchie gets a tour of the E-911 Center from E-911 Director Mike Allen.

OSWEGO – New York State Senator Patty Ritchie met with Oswego County E-911 Director Michael Allen and Jefferson County Office of Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph Plummer to tour the Oswego County E-911 Communications Center and discuss policy, funding issues and the future of telecommunications.

Administrators of E-911 communications centers across the state are meeting with New York State representatives to talk about new and emerging technologies and how they have put a strain on our resources.

“I was very impressed to meet the hard-working staff of Oswego County’s E-911 Center,” said Senator Ritchie. “These are the people who make sure that help is soon on its way when families are facing an emergency. I assured them that I would work with them to insure that Oswego County is treated fairly in its efforts to be reimbursed for 911 surcharges collected by the state from cell phone users and in the state’s new competitive grant process.”

Oswego County E-911 Director Michael Allen said, “If we do not plan and upgrade our equipment to meet the needs of modern technology, the ability for our call centers to accept information from countless IP-based communications devices will inevitably undermine the effectiveness of emergency response and lives will hang in the balance. In 2010, we had a 4.92 percent increase in total incidents dispatched over the previous year.”

The following statistics represent activities that took place at the Oswego County E-911 Emergency Communications Center in 2010:

· Total telephone calls: 212,798

· Law enforcement incidents dispatched: 92,375

· Fire/EMS incidents dispatched: 29,823

· Total incidents dispatched: 122,198

In New York State and across the country, E-911 Communications Centers are fitted with copper technology from the 1960s and need to be updated to keep up with the IP-technology in use today.

Allen added, “The E-911 call service is part of public safety and essential to the protection and security of our residents. It is imperative that systems equipment and support evolves to meet the new challenges that technology presents.

“The state has made great strides in the expedited deployment of location technology for wireless devices, but the fact remains new and emerging technologies are outpacing our ability to plan and budget for future upgrades.”

A number of other challenges also face E-911 Emergency Communications Centers, including the county’s collection of cell phone usage fees from the state, county-to-county coverage during emergencies by Tele-communicators Emergency Response Teams (TERT), and an alignment of benefits and recognition between E-911 tele-communicators and other public safety responders.

New York State collects approximately $1.20 every month on each cellular phone and the county is reimbursed only $.06 of that fee to contribute to the maintenance of the E-911 call center. Between 2009 and 2010, the state collected $192,486,585 in cell phone surcharge fees and reimbursed $9.3 million to be shared by all of the counties across the state.

“In 2010, Oswego County received only $62,502 for their portion of that reimbursement,” said Allen. “This is particularly alarming with more and more people dropping their land lines and using their cell phones exclusively.”

Last year, the Oswego County E-911 Communications Center answered 27,538 land line calls as compared to 37,788 wireless 911 calls. Oswego County directly collects an E-911 surcharge of $.35 per month on each land line in the county. In 2010, the total collected was $201,215.

This raises another concern for the county. Allen said, “Some federal grant dollars have to go through the state, and, because the state doesn’t spend the E-911 surcharge fees exclusively on E-911 services, the federal government has deemed New York State a “fund-raiding” state. This designation means that we are not eligible for some of the federal funding that we could otherwise qualify and apply for.”

TERT provides E-911 operations coverage and support in neighboring counties during emergency situations. Across the state, every E-911 center compiled information about their operations and capabilities and provided this inventory to the state.

“Not all E-911 centers use the same equipment or operating systems,” said Allen. “By compiling this inventory, we know how everyone operates and, based on this knowledge, we can share personnel in an emergency situation and make that help much more effective.”

He added, “We have collected all of the information about issues such as reimbursement costs and insurance coverage. Now, we would like the state to embrace the idea of mutual aid for E-911 services and allow the counties to exchange personnel in the event of an emergency.”

E-911 Emergency Services across the state would also like to see an alignment of tele-communicator positions with other public emergency personnel.

“Our tele-communicators are the first “first responders” in an emergency situation,” said Allen. “They are an integral part of the public safety system and deserve the same support provided to personnel in other emergency services agencies.”

The Oswego County E-911 Emergency Communications Center employs 32 dispatchers who field between 750 and 850 calls every day. Dispatchers answer emergency and non-emergency calls and coordinate the response of nearly 50 emergency services user agencies, assisting them in protecting life and preserving property.

To ensure a highly-efficient dispatch process, it is the exclusive public safety answering point and all incidents for these agencies are processed through this one centralized emergency communications center. Therefore, each “call-for-assistance” to these agencies is routed to the E-911 call center, regardless of the number dialed.

For more information about the Oswego County E-911 Emergency Communications Center, call at 315/349-8215 or 1-800-679-3911 or visit their Web site at http://oswegocounty.com/911/.