Worthington's 911 center moves to Northwest Regional Emergency Communications Center

GARY SEMAN JR.
gseman@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

The Worthington Division of Fire & EMS has completed the transfer of its 911 dispatching services to the Northwest Regional Emergency Communications Center in Dublin.

The switch occurred July 7, with the division's dispatchers staying on for the time being as the Worthington Division of Police prepares for its transition to the communications center Sept. 7.

The communications center is the primary public-safety dispatch center for Dublin, Hilliard, Upper Arlington, Washington Township, Norwich Township and Worthington.

A major incident can be handled by seven or eight dispatchers, who can coordinate fire trucks and EMS vehicles, deploy specialty equipment and call utility companies if there is a gas leak, for example, Worthington fire Chief Mark Zambito said.

"When we have high-hazard, low-frequency incidents -- those structural fires, those unusual rescues -- we have more dispatchers to absorb the workload," Zambito said.

Previously, a large traffic accident on Interstate 270 would have tied up the lines of Worthington dispatchers, who also had to answer other emergency calls while coordinating coverage of the accident site, he said.

Zambito said upgrading the division's dispatching services to modern standards was cost-prohibitive, but he could not provide a dollar figure.

Robyn Stewart, Worthington's assistant city manager, said a specific number was not available because there are "many technology options available to assist with 911 and public-safety dispatching."

It also is unclear how much the switch will cost the city initially, but that should be available later this year, Stewart said.

"There are one-time transition costs related to equipment that needed to be purchased, as well as the need to continue to operate our center while, at the same time, paying for the ramp-up for NRECC to incorporate our operations," she said. "Until we close our center, we won't have final costs associated with that operation."

Zambito said the switch to the Northwest Regional Emergency Communications Center was first considered about 10 years ago, "but things just fell into place."

He said the fire division would receive emergency calls for 12 unique incidents per day; a busy day would be 20-plus calls -- "and that happens quite often."

Worthington spokesperson Anne Brown said Worthington City Council authorized the move to the communications center last year partly because of staffing issues.

"The staffing issue is a national issue, impacting dispatch centers across the country, as it is difficult to train and retain highly qualified personnel," Brown said.

"The city has been challenged with keeping up with the demands of providing a high level of service that comes with a fully staffed center," she said. "Maintaining the service would require extensive investment in personnel and technology.

"This recommendation is not a reflection on the current Worthington dispatchers but came about because of a variety of circumstances which caused the city to take a hard look at the communications center by conducting a deep analysis of how we can provide the best services to our citizens," she said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

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