FARMINGTON — The state is seeking public comment on a plan that will winnow down the number of emergency communication centers from 26 to about 17, with the stated goal of providing better response at a lower cost.

However, some local public safety officials say consolidation of Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs, that would reroute 911 calls to large, regional communications centers could increase response time, affect service and cost more.

The Public Utilities Commission and the Emergency Services Communications Bureau have set a July 12 deadline for this round of comments that will be included in a report that will go to the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee by Nov. 1. The Legislature is expected to take up the issue during its next session.

In a recent study commissioned by the PUC, L. R. Kimball Associates, a firm specializing in emergency-911 design and public safety consolidation, found the optimum PSAP configuration in Maine would be 15 to 17 full-service, regionally-located centers.

The ramifications of reducing the number of PSAPS, especially in large, geographically-diverse, remote and rural areas, has some officials worried.

“My biggest concern is for the safety of the people in Oxford County,” said James Miclon, director of the Oxford County Communications Center.

The Paris-based operation is one of the busiest county PSAPs in Maine and handles about 60, 911-calls a day, he said.

“If some other location answers our calls and then transfers them to us to dispatch fire, law enforcement or EMS (emergency medical services), we will lose valuable time in getting first responders out as quickly as possible and with the correct information,” he said.

“I would encourage individuals and officials to submit comments and answer whatever questions they can,” he said.

Franklin County Chief Deputy Raymond Meldrum agreed.

“It would be very detrimental to the people of Franklin County if we did not have a PSAP here,” he said.

“Our people are far better able to provide for the needs of this region. We have an efficient and well-trained staff that is familiar with this area,” he said.

He also predicted there would be no cost savings to the people of Franklin County if the PSAP was eliminated.

“We would still need a call center to dispatch fire, police and ambulance from here but we wouldn’t have the mapping, callback numbers, and the information screens we have now,” he said. “There would be a time delay in response.”

Under the current system, PSAP dispatchers at the 26 centers across the state take 911 calls, gather basic information and then either reroute the caller to a local public safety agency to dispatch rescue services or directly send out needed personnel as they do in Oxford and Franklin counties now.

Last week, the PUC opened its public inquiry period and asked local and county officials with a stake in the emergency dispatch system to answer 18 detailed questions.

The responses will become part of the case file and will be used to help the agency develop a consolidation plan, according to a press release.

Among the questions are ideas on developing PSAP selection criteria; incentives to encourage voluntary PSAP consolidation; ways to curb PSAP “rate shopping”; and suggestions on addressing the fragmented dispatch and PSAP services.

While the questions seek in-depth responses from those in the field, PUC spokeswoman Evelyn deFrees said anyone with an interest in how emergency services are provided in their community is invited to submit a comment.

“The commission considers all the material filed in a case. We need to be specific in what we ask because we were directed by the Legislature to come up with a plan with a deadline attached to it, but we are a public agency and this is a public process. Our rules are to invite comments from those who are interested,” she said.

According to the PUC, in 2009, Franklin County’s PSAP received 9,110 emergency calls; Oxford County’s center received 19,309 calls; and the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office PSAP received 8,569.

Also, the Lewiston/Auburn Emergency Communications System had 31,479 calls and the multi-county Somerset County Regional Communications Center in Skowhegan received 25,256.

The Kimball report found that a reduction in PSAPs may result in cost-savings to the state’s Emergency 911 system and to the communities that consolidate PSAP and dispatch services into regional, full-service communications centers.

However, it stated the primary motivation for consolidation is improvement in service, better response time and fewer chances for human or technology errors.

“Quicker call processing and dispatch times results in faster, on-scene times for field personnel,” according to the report.

The complete notice of inquiry document, the Kimball report, and all filed comments may be found at www.maine.gov/mpuc.

 
Public comment is being sought by the Maine Public Utilities Commission on a plan to consolidate the existing 26 Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPS, into 15 to 17 centers. Franklin County dispatcher Tom Marble is working at the PSAP in Farmington, one of 13 county dispatch centers that handles incoming 911 and dispatches for fire, ambulance, and law enforcement.

Public comments are sought on a plan to consolidate Maine’s 26 Public Safety Answering Points to about 17, according to the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Emergency Services Communications Bureau.

To read a copy of the Notice of Inquiry, view the questionnaire, and electronically file comments, go to www.maine.gov/mpuc. Click the “online filing” link on the left and fill in information on the log-in page. The case ID is 2010185. Hard copies of letters should be mailed to: Administrative Director, MPUC, 18 State House Station, Augusta ME 04333.


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