911 Upgrades Edging Ahead

An overhaul of the 911 system in Barnes County inched forward on Tuesday as the Barnes County Commission voted 3-2 on a multi-faceted measure to proceed.

“Most of this stuff we would have done regardless of which route we go,” said Commissioner Eldred Knutson.

A year ago the county commission voted to remain the governing board for 911 services and established an advisory committee with city commission and emergency service representatives to over see finances and other operations.

There is currently a statewide push for “Next Generation 911” underway to replace outdated equipment.

Valley City and Barnes County are interested in a joint powers agreement that has been formed between Richland and Stutsman County. But with a mid-2013 deadline looming to upgrade the 911 to digital equipment, the city and county will have to first decide who between them is going to be in charge of the 911 system.

“We’re at a point where we need to update our equipment as it is obsolete and we can no longer get parts for it. We have a chance where we can save money if we partner with one or two other counties, and the quicker we act, the better,” Knutson said.

The first point of the measure will determine a new location for the public service answering point, which is currently housed in the Law Enforcement Center. A 911 coordinator/supervisor will also be established in the meantime while a new contract for 911 is established.
The 2013 budgets will also be adjusted to allow for a salary for the coordinator. All 911 funds will be transferred to Barnes County and all bills will be submitted to the Barnes County Auditor. A cost-share plan for the public service operating point will also be finalized, and the city and county will draft a contract on 911 operations.

Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson said he has been involved in 911 discussions since he was hired earlier this year, and said the current 911 system can be improved.

“One thing is apparent to me, and that is a lot of you folks are basing your decisions on conduct and things that have occurred in dispatch over the past years,” he said. “I’m here to tell you that as a police chief who is now currently controlling dispatch, I don’t like some of the things I see going on here, and it’s my intention to fix some of those things.”

Thompson said his first target is a policy procedure dealing with notifications, meaning which entity is dispatched to which situation in the county.

“Since I’ve been here I’ve been challenged on maybe a dozen different occasions as to who was sent to where and why. The answer I get from talking to the dispatchers is ‘well, this week they tell us this way, and next week they tell us that way...’ They feel that there’s no direction for them.”

Commissioner Cindy Schwehr, who voted for the measure along with Knutson and Commissioner Rodger Berntson, asked Thomspon why he wanted “this headache” of taking on 911 procedures. Thompson reiterated a statement he had made earlier, where he had bristled at the notion that dispatchers had downtime when they were not answering calls.

“The Valley City Police Department is a 24/7 operation, because of that, I have a personal, vested interest in making sure communications is there to take care of my folks. The dispatchers job is to listen to those radios and take care of those calls. If one of my guys is out there someplace and only gets two or three seconds to scream for help, and the dispatcher is not paying attention to that radio, it could cost that officer his life.”