By Nicole Hennessy
Almost a decade after most Westshore cities regionalized their emergency dispatch center into Westcom, which operates out of St. John Medical Center in Westlake, Olmsted Falls and Olmsted Township are finalizing their collaboration with Strongsville, which is also in talks with North Royalton.
Olmsted Falls Mayor Ann Marie Donegan, picking up where the last administration left off on this project, says what excites her the most is the opportunity to work with the township.
And while this project is something that’s seen as another step toward better efficiency, Donegan, like every administrator in Ohio, knows it is also out of necessity, because Ohio House Bill 360, which went into effect in 2012, guarantees that the number of dispatch centers in Cuyahoga County receiving state funds for emergency services will drastically decrease by 2018.
Within the next decade, the state’s goal is to provide funding to just four dispatch centers within Cuyahoga County.
Donegan reiterated that number, putting it in the context of the 45 dispatch centers that currently operate within the state.
Another push comes from Cuyahoga County Executive Edward FitzGerald, who prepared a 911 consolidation plan last year, putting further pressure on communities to work together.
This plan also mentioned the county’s intent to develop a universal emergency medical dispatching protocol to standardize policies and procedures.
North Royalton, one of the members of the proposed new dispatch center, was included in a 2009 study prepared by Cleveland State University’s (CSU) Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, which considered the feasibility of consolidated dispatch for fire, police and EMS service.
In a similar study prepared for Wayne County, Wooster and Ashland in 2011, the Westshore center was considered.
In the final document, Westcom’s supervisor, Nick Pishnery, shared some of the successes, challenges and lessons learned since beginning operations in 2006.
He listed the benefits of operating out of a hospital, including low rent and the ease of communication with hospital personnel.
However, the study continued, “in Mr. Pishnery’s estimation, it is more prudent and economical to join an established multi-jurisdictional regionalized dispatch center,” stating that one of Westcom’s challenges was “starting with nothing.”
Making this particular transition easier, but also more pressing, is the fact that Olmsted Falls has a $720,00 FEMA grant to go toward purchasing new equipment, which must be utilized by March 2014.
While improving the quality of service and lowering costs for cities are the first objectives of any proposed collaboration, a decrease in dispatch centers by 41 can be a shocking number for constituents to hear.
But “we need to fish or cut bait by the end of the month,” Donegan said, struggling to remember if that is the correct use of the expression.
“The dispatching will be seamless,” she added, meaning residents won’t realize they are calling Strongsville, though this is something the city hopes to make as clear as possible.
No layoffs are planned for Olmsted Falls’ current dispatchers.
However, in the later stages of consolidated emergency services, like fire and police, the theory of regionalization becomes much more difficult to implement, as employee pay rates differ from city to city and questions related to a decreased or overloaded staff come into play.
But, for now, Olmsted Falls and Olmsted Township are focusing on the first step, the dispatch center, which is thought to save the city an annual average of $10,000.
Within the next week it will become clear whether or not Olmsted Falls will collaborate with Strongsville, or whether they will be forced to use the FEMA grant to purchase equipment on their own, but it is likely the deal will go through.
Mentioning her excitement on working with the township again, Donegan added, “I think this is the first time we’ve had a solid, communicative working relationship with the trustees, and that’s fabulous on so many different levels – recreation, service, sewer, infrastructure, joint economic development – those are the things that are very, very positive and we’re looking forward to them.”