Urgent help for Harford's 911 center

January 24, 1995

After nearly two years of delay, funds for construction of Harford County's expanded Emergency Operations Center, or 911 nerve center, have finally been appropriated. It's time to get this important project built, within budget.

The new underground bunker was first designed in 1993 as an addition to the original center on Ady Road, which was built in 1962. But the federal funds allocated were inadequate, so the facility had to be redesigned.

This month, the County Council approved spending the $363,000 initial grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin construction work in July. The building will not be completed before the end of 1996.

This untoward delay in completing the new structure has somewhat dampened enthusiasm for the consolidation of sheriff emergency calls with other emergency communications (these other calls were consolidated last year).

Emergency calls for the sheriff's office, fire and hospital, state police and municipal police departments are coordinated through the Hickory center. The transfer of responsibility and of personnel from the sheriff's office were planned on the assumption the expanded operations center would be finished this spring to handle the changeover.

While integration of a dozen sheriff dispatchers with the 20 emergency center operators has helped to improve efficiency and cut response time, it also had a negative impact on sheriff's office operations, one that became an issue in the recent election.

A backlog of 800 outstanding warrants was not entered into the agency's computer data bank for access by road patrol deputies. Sheriff dispatchers formerly entered warrants during slow periods in handling emergency calls. The backlog was eventually wiped out, but the delay was cited as a management problem in the political race for sheriff.

The Emergency Operations Center gets well over 50,000 calls for help each year, making it a vital link in Harford's emergency services network. That's twice the number of calls received in 1985, when the center began handling the 911 calls. While the center already has modern, state of the art communications gear, the larger facility will permit more efficient use of staff and will be more secure from natural disasters.

We hope that this time the design will be consistent with the $2 million federal grant so the expanded center can be smoothly, expeditiously completed without another funding emergency.

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