Lebanon County’s Department of Emergency Services is in the midst of an update to the County’s 911 emergency phone system. Funding is coming from a state grant, not out of the County’s budget, according to DES director Bob Dowd.

A $1.7 million dollar grant from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency will do more than simply help DES modernize its phone system. Technological advances will enable DES, by late 2019, to combine common parts of the system with its York County counterpart, reducing maintenance costs and eliminating unnecessary and costly duplication. PEMA encourages counties to combine operations when practical to reduce costs.

The collaboration also allows for redundant backups, decreasing the chance of big system failures and data losses. “No single point of failure will make the system crash,” said Dowd.

The result will be a 911 Regional Call Center. “Center” may suggest a separate building somewhere, but that’s not the case. While York and Lebanon will be saving money and increasing reliability by cooperating, both counties will continue to operate independently, at their current locations, when it comes to fielding calls and dispatching emergency services.

“The changes should be transparent,” said Dowd, “and users of the system won’t notice anything different.”

MCM Consulting Group of State College has been hired as the project manager for the phone system upgrade and combination. Dowd noted that MCM has been working for both counties for some time, and that they share similar technologies, so MCM is already familiar with both phone systems.

The emergency phone system is one of four parts of the county’s overall emergency response operation. The other three—computer aided dispatch, radio communication, and a communication recording system—are unaffected by the update and will not be combined with York or any other county.

Lebanon County DES currently employs 28 full-time dispatchers who work 12-hour shifts. There are never fewer than five dispatchers on duty during the day or four at night.

DES handles about 60,000 emergency calls and over 100,000 non-emergency calls per year. It dispatches all of Lebanon County’s municipal police departments. Calls that require Pennsylvania State Police attention are routed by DES to PSP’s own dispatchers.

Looking far down the road, Dowd said very early plans are underway for a building that he envisions as Lebanon County’s “Public Safety Center,” housing DES and other emergency services. DES has outgrown its current quarters in the basement of the Lebanon Municipal Building.

Dowd stressed that those plans are not at the point where timetables or funding sources are being discussed.

What Dowd is most enthusiastic about is the regionalization of emergency call systems, which he believes can only lead to cheaper, more reliable services and enhanced public safety. He hopes that the Lebanon-York partnership is just the start.

“We are hoping that this system grows beyond just Lebanon and York. We’ve put out invites to all of our peers and said, ‘When you guys are ready to jump on board, we’ll be ready for you.'”

This story has been updated to clarify that funding for this project comes from a grant from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency

Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...


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