Merging 911 dispatch services a win-win deal for both counties

The decision to merge emergency 911 dispatch services in Hamilton and Merrick counties stands out a classic example of how technology and visionary fiscal planning can combine to create more efficient government services.
As of July 13, anyone dialing 911 throughout the two neighboring counties will be talking to a dispatcher seated at a high-tech communications hub in the Hamilton County Law Enforcement Center. Despite a few early transitional “bumps in the road,” officials say the merger is working well.
When Merrick County officials started thinking out loud in 2016 about farming out their 911 services, Hamilton County Sheriff Kirk Handrup saw an opportunity and ran with it. He’s been a consistent advocate of the plan, to his credit.
Early planning for the 911 merger was initiated about the same time that the Law Enforcement Center in Aurora was being remodeled. A $250,000 upgrade to the 911 center was included as part of that costly renovation, though some, including the News-Register, wondered out loud at the time if that was a good use of taxpayer dollars.
Clearly it was, in hindsight, as the enhanced 911 center made it easier for Hamilton County commissioners to say with confidence that they could handle doubling the work load involving emergency response communications. Mapping, pagers, signal repeaters and all the necessary technology needed to coordinate emergency responses out of one center are all in place now, ending the need for duplicate services out of Central City.
It was critical that Merrick County residents and law enforcement personnel shared confidence that the level of 911 services would be as good or better going forward. On that point, only time will tell, though there is every reason to believe that it will.
The host county now has 10 full-time dispatchers, funded in part by Merrick County’s annual $157,000 contribution. In addition, Hamilton County now has access to a combined pool of an estimated $8,000-9,000 monthly E911 funds, which will help pay for ongoing technology upgrades.
As with any field these days, technology has made 911 communications better, faster and more efficient, though that technology comes with a price tag. That’s the core component that makes this merger work on paper, as it is difficult for small entities, private or public, to keep up with the latest, greatest technology on the market.
Consolidating government services is not a new concept by any means, and in fact Gov. Pete Ricketts has made it a point to encourage that kind of thinking statewide. There was additional incentive as well, as the merged service is now eligible to join the East Central 911 Region, which means local residents could be able to send emergency warnings and information via text message sooner than would have otherwise been possible.
Decision makers in both Hamilton and Merrick county deserve credit for working together to make local government more efficient, while simultaneously upgrading 911 technology.
 Kurt Johnson

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