Ed Meyer

Emergency dispatchers in Norton, Copley Township and Barberton will find the latest technology at their fingertips by early next month.

Using touch-screen computers and digital radios with a team of dispatchers on hand instead of one, officials said response times should be cut significantly — and more lives saved.

Funding for the new joint dispatch center, based at the Norton fire station on Greenwich Road, was approved unanimously Thursday by officials from the Southwest Summit Council of Governments, representing all three communities.

It is planned to be operational by Jan. 4, Copley Fire Chief Mike Benson said.

Under a capped budget of $1.77 million for all facets of the dispatch center, Benson said the cost will be split by predetermined percentages — Barberton paying 44 percent, Copley 31 percent and Norton 25.

Fiscal officers and finance directors from the three communities met and discussed how to break down the percentages based on population, tax evaluation and emergency call volume for 2012, Benson said.

The three communities received a total of 29,193 emergency calls last year.

Much of the funding for the new equipment, Benson said, was obtained through a low-interest loan by the Ohio Department of Development’s Local Government Innovation Fund.

“We budgeted high in every category because you just don’t know. This is a new building and a new operation,” Benson said.

“We are supposed to stay under the budget [figure] and save money. That’s the goal, to save money in the end.”

The level of technology in the new digital radio and computer equipment is such that none of the three communities could bear the cost alone, the chief said.

When the center is up and running, Benson said, it will employ one manager, veteran communications supervisor Karen Gregorcic, with 19 full-time dispatchers and two part-time dispatchers.

Team of dispatchers

Four dispatchers will be working as a team on each shift, using equipment that’s “much more robust” than what was used before, Benson said.

“If you’re a dispatcher by yourself, you have to answer the phone, you have to answer the radio, you have to make calls and you’re putting people on hold,” he said.

But Benson said, when there is a team of dispatchers working together, one dispatcher can answer the phone, stay on the line with the caller, give pre-arrival instructions and tell the caller what to do to try to save a loved one.

“Then the other dispatchers are sending fire and EMS units at the exact same time. It cuts down response time, provides better service and literally saves lives,” Benson said.

After officials voted to approve the budget for the project, Gregorcic demonstrated how the system works.

There are multiple Computer Aided Dispatch units, or CAD units, at each work station inside the center.

Desks specially designed

The CADs are positioned at specially designed desks and individual keyboard terminals that can be raised or lowered, depending upon the physical stature or personal preference of each dispatcher, by electronic push-button.

Five high-definition, big-screen television monitors that cover virtually the entire width of the center are mounted on a wall above the CAD.

Gregorcic gave an example of how the technology could be used in a real-life setting.

If a fire commander suddenly entered the center and needed to know wind direction for a call area, she said, the dispatcher could click on a weather service website and display that information panoramically on a big-screen monitor.

Also, any 911 location or address displayed on a CAD can be sent to a police or fire agency simply by touching a particular agency’s icon on an adjacent computer screen.

Quicker response

“When we see something on our CAD, we can tell if the community data is correct. We can tell if it’s the city of Barberton,” Gregorcic said, “and we can dispatch help to you directly without phone calls, without any delay in response, without any hesitation to get help there.”

Gregoric said the system is so advanced that if a 911 caller was bleeding, for example, the equipment can provide instructions to the dispatcher about how to put pressure on the wound properly.

Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at emeyer@thebeaconjournal.com.