By the first week of December, Butler County will be part of an evolving network of counties that share telephone routing equipment for their 9-1-1 dispatch centers.
The equipment, called a switch, allows one county to pick up 9-1-1 calls of another in the event that county has system problems or failure.
Butler County has suffered three outages in the last six weeks, though county Emergency Services Director Steve Bicehouse said none resulted in a delay for emergency responders.
Bicehouse said he hopes this network will pave the way for other shared services among county emergency agencies, even as Butler County undergoes a $2.6 million upgrade of its 9-1-1 system in the next few years.”We’re in a pretty exciting time to look at this,” Bicehouse said. “Every project, we’re going to ask around, “What are people doing?,’ and “˜Can we share this?'”
The network, dubbed WestCORE, has been in the planning stages since 2009, when Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties met to talk about replacing their 9-1-1 phone systems.
Now, WestCORE counties include: Butler, Allegheny, Westmoreland, Somerset, Indiana, Armstrong, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Lawrence, Mercer, Cambria and Venango. Fayette County came on board as the newest member in May.
In 2012 testimony before the state Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee, Lawrence County public safety director Brian Melcer touted several benefits, including cost savings, better backups if one 9-1-1 center is disabled, and the capability to expand the network to other counties.
“In a shared model such as WestCORE, with a reliable network, not only do we see the benefit of public safety grade reliability to prevent (disaster) scenarios, but also the ability to respond quicker and have another county immediately back us up without convoluted means of rerouting calls,” Melcer said.Allegheny County started using the system the first week of November and expects to save more than $200,000 a year in maintenance and related costs, said Gary Thomas, assistant chief of Allegheny County’s Emergency Services.
Allegheny County also had a one-time savings of nearly $2.3 million for equipment costs in joining the network.
Butler County expects to save at least $10,000 a year in maintenance costs, Bicehouse said.
Dispatchers and administrative staff are training on the new system, as screens displaying emergency information will look a bit different, Bicehouse said.
Butler County is paying about $250,000 to integrate into the new system. It would have cost the county $750,000 to install a single new switch. The shared system will have three switches, and no county will need to have its own, Bicehouse said.
The switches will allow for system enhancements, including the ability for callers to text 9-1-1 dispatchers, Bicehouse said.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency received a $2.5 million grant through the federal government to help buy equipment for the network.