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Rock Island County Considers Changing 911 System

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911 dispatchers all in one place to handle emergencies faster; it's been discussed in Rock Island for almost a decade.  

Now the county is taking its first steps to make it a reality. They're getting a $150,000 federal grant to conduct a study on its 911 centers. 

Right now six centers are handling 911 calls in Rock Island County: Milan, Rock Island, Rock Island County Sheriff's Department, Centre Station, which handles calls for East Moline and Moline, Silvis and the Rock Island Arsenal.

The county will use the grant to hire a consultant to see what other options are on the table, if these could work better under one roof or another solution. 

"If we started out with a clean slate, we would never build six," Rock Island County 911 Board Chair Steve Seiver says. 

Having six different spots for 911 calls means sometimes having to transfer calls that bounce to the wrong place or coordinating things from six different places. 

All this shaves off seconds in an emergency. 

"We have multiple agencies for fire, medical services and there's a whole spectrum of different kinds of radio systems," Seiver says, "You have to make sure the centers can be able to talk but also that the agencies can talk among themselves." 

Dispatchers from different centers work together on a daily basis. They can share data and back each other up in case one place goes down. 

But having everyone under one roof could make a big difference in a large scale emergency.

"It's easier to pull people together and be able to have additional people to man phones, to take care of radio communications," Seiver says. 

But there are some road blocks.

"These are big decisions to be made, there's millions of dollars being questioned and where does that come from, who has that money?" Silvis Police Chief William Brasche says. 

Money and keeping dispatchers that specialize in their areas are two main concerns. 

"Our police and dispatchers have a personal relationship, they know each other, does that lead to them caring more about the other and what they're doing? I think so," Brasche says. 

The consolidation study will look at all these factors and more to see what's the best option, and figure out a plan to make it happen.   

"It can be more than one, it can be one plus a backup," Seiver says.

"We need somebody to look at this and we need to commit to some kind of a future plan here and move forward," Brasche says. 

Rock Island County will start looking for a consultant early next year, and the study  will be finished within 18 months.  

In Iowa, Scott County consolidated its 911 services in 2011.

Director Brian Hitchcock says it took a year to work out technical and personnel issues, but today they are seeing improvements. 

He says they have faster emergency response times because dispatchers aren't transferring calls to other buildings. 

Dispatchers can also send information instantly to all medic, police and fire departments at once.  

Hitchcock says that makes a difference in a big emergency like last summer's plane crash at the Quad City Air Show. 

"No one center here could've handled the influx of cellular calls that were coming in, but collectively because we had all those people in one room, people could shift and assist in the area where the plane crash happened," Hitchcock says. 

The Scott Emergency Communications Center currently employs 47 dispatchers and coordinates 22 different public safety agencies.

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