Changes to Cumberland County dispatch center

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Changes are being made to the way the Cumberland County dispatch center operates. The county’s public safety director abruptly retired and resigned Tuesday. This comes one week after police chiefs from the western part of the county said dispatchers have placed officers on hold during emergencies.

Cumberland County Chief Clerk, Larry Thomas, calls this a redesign for better performance. Thomas says the county is wasting money and not responding how it should, putting people at risk. He detailed in length what works for the county, and what doesn't.

Hiring more staff and filtering non-emergency calls to free up phone lines are both issues that Thomas wants to address. Shorter shifts could also be in the future, but that has yet to be decided. Thomas says two full time dispatchers have already been hired. He also plans on hiring two part time employees as well. Emergency responders say they can improve too. Cumberland County Goodwill EMS makes its own non-emergency calls to dispatch to inform them of truck changes everyday.

"That can be about a 20 second call. When you combine that, 3 times per day, 20 second call, over the course of a year that is 6 hours of time that we are spending just as an ambulance service - saying this truck is going to be in service today, this truck is out for maintenance," says Assistant Chief for Cumberland County Goodwill EMS, Nathan Harig.

Long dispatch wait times are one of the reasons these issues were brought to light by law enforcement. And commissioners are now calling on them for input.

"There's really an opportunity for technology to go in. The thing that they're going to have a hard time with is do they have the funds to start it up and get it working?" says Harig.

More funding for the dispatch center is something the county can't afford. Larry Thomas even mentioned not filling managerial positions and splitting the workload among current employees to save money. All involved agree this isn't something that can be fixed overnight.

"We need to make sure that we apply the appropriate service and look at what we do need but at the same time we need to be cost effective," says Deputy Director of Public Safety, Bob Shively.

The county plans to develop a panel full of public safety experts to serve as a board for the ideas that are developed.