Commissioners hear proposal for combined emergency dispatch centers

Paul Adams (left), chief of dispatch for the Huntington Police Department, addresses the Huntington County Board of Commissioners on Monday, Jan. 12, about the need for a new centralized emergency dispatch facility.
Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Proposals for combining Huntington and Huntington County emergency dispatch centers have been floating around for 20 years, but politics has always gotten in the way of actually carrying out those proposals.

"The falling apart was where to put it," says Paul Adams, the Huntington Police Department's chief of dispatch, of those past discussions.

And now that the "where to put it" has been hammered out - in a newly constructed building, a unified study committee recommends - the economy may prove to be the stumbling block.

"I want time to look this over," says Tom Wall, president of the Huntington County Board of Commissioners. "I don't know, with the economy, if this is the time to do it."
Wall and fellow commissioners Jerry Helvie and Kathy Branham heard a proposal Monday, Jan. 12, to build a $1.6 million facility that would serve as a unified dispatch center for the Huntington Police Department, the Huntington County Sheriff's Department and the Huntington County Emergency Management Agency. Parkview Huntington Hospital may also join the dispatch center, Adams says.

The $1.6 million price tag does not include the purchase of land, says Terry Burnworth, an architect specializing in combined dispatch centers.

To raise $2 million, Adams says, a Huntington County resident who owns a home assessed at $100,000 would be required to pay an additional tax of $4 to $5 a year. Some costs would be covered by the 911 fee paid by everyone who has telephone service, he says, and there's a possibility that some grants could be available.

Burnworth studied both the City Building, where the Huntington Police Department's dispatch center is currently located, and the Huntington County Jail, home to the Sheriff's Department dispatch center.

There is no way to retrofit the City Building as a central dispatch headquarters, Burnworth says, because the building is so old.

As for the jail, he says, it would cost between $1.5 million and $1.9 million "if you truly turn that into an emergency operations center."

The second floor of the jail, county dispatch's current home, has no fire supression or fire alarm systems, Burnworth says. Systems for monitoring and controlling access are inadequate, he notes, as is the heating, air conditioning and ventilation system. The electrical grounding system is poor, he says, and there is no way to assure uninterrupted electrical power.

And, Burnworth says, a building housing an emergency operations center must be able to withstand both natural and manmade disasters.

"It literally has to be the last building standing," Adams adds. "Construction on its own is the way we'd like to go.

"Do it one time and do it right the first time."

A centralized dispatch could operate with the same number of dispatchers now employed by the city and county police combined, Adams says. If Parkview Huntington Hospital comes on board, he adds, that would give the center an excess number of dispatchers.

"But we would save in equipment," Adams says. "Now, we have two of everything."

The dispatch study committee includes Adams; Scott Amburgey, of Parkview Huntington Hospital; Huntington Police Chief Tom Emely; Huntington Fire Chief Matt Armstrong; Huntington Mayor Steve Updike; Ruth Marsh, Huntington's operations manager; Brandon Taylor, chief of the Huntington County Emergency Management Agency; Sheriff Kent Farthing; and former Huntington County Commissioner Richard Brubaker.