Consolidated dispatch goes online next week

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, December 30, 2020

All law enforcement agencies in Pearl River County will use one dispatch beginning next week. The consolidation and upgraded technology should make emergency response times faster and make it easier for the three law enforcement agencies in the county to communicate with each other during an emergency.

The new consolidated dispatch office will be located in Chimney Square in Picayune. The location was chosen because the building already had a generator and was prepared for severe weather.

The space includes a dispatch center with four stations, a supervisor’s office, a break room, bathrooms and lockers. On Jan. 7, dispatchers will report for the first shift at the consolidated dispatch at 6 a.m.

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The effort to try to consolidate E911 dispatch began over a decade ago. Fire Chief Keith Brown was instrumental in moving the project forward and County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin has been involved in the effort for years, said IT Director Carey Meitzler.

Officers from local law enforcement agencies have had some training on the new technology, said Lumpkin. Dispatchers have also had some training and will have more training about the new technology next week, he said.

With the consolidation, dispatchers will all be county employees. The number of dispatcher positions was not decreased, although all dispatchers did have to meet specific criteria to be hired by the county.

The Sheriff’s Department already provided dispatch services for the Poplarville Police Department, but the Picayune Police Department operated its own dispatch. Having more than one dispatch center in the county slowed communication when people called 911 on a cellphone, said Lumpkin.

All cellphone 911 calls in Pearl River County would go to the Sheriff’s Office, so if someone was calling 911 from a cellphone within the city limits of Picayune, their call would need to be transferred to the Picayune Police Department. With one dispatch, calls will no longer have to be transferred to get to the correct law enforcement agency.

The new consolidated dispatch will include updated technology that should make it easy for dispatchers to locate emergency vehicles and callers.

“We finally, in my opinion, got into the 21st century. We’re not using everything, the system can do more things. I think as time goes on, we can add some other modules here,” said Lumpkin.

Sheriff’s Department vehicles, Picayune Police Department vehicles and Picayune Fire Department vehicles will now be tracked via GPS.

Dispatchers will be able to look at a digital map when a call comes in and quickly see who is closest to an incident. The map updates every 20 seconds, so it can show the movement of law enforcement and fire department vehicles, said Meitzler.

In previous years, the Picayune Police Department’s dispatch could not find the location of a call coming from a cellphone, and had to rely solely on information given by the caller. The Sheriff’s Department was using a third party vendor to get that information, and would have to search for the location during the call, which took slightly longer than the new system will take to find a caller’s location. Currently it takes dispatchers approximately 50 seconds to find a caller’s location, but with the new system the location should be available in 22 seconds.

The new technology purchased for the consolidated dispatch will automatically populate the location of the caller, making it easier for dispatchers to quickly know where a call is coming from.

Identifying a caller’s location could be useful in a situation where the person placing the call is unable to speak, is having trouble pulling together their thoughts or does not know their exact location, like if they are pulled over on the side of the interstate.

Dispatchers will also be able to bridge calls between different law enforcement agencies who are responding to the same incident. Previously, the departments sometimes had situations where each would be talking to their respective dispatchers on the radio and calling officers from the other agency with their cellphone to try and relay information, said Meitzler.

The Poplarville Police Department did not have a records management system, and has already begun using the new records management system. The Picayune Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department will begin using the new CAD and new records management system on Jan. 7, when the consolidated dispatch goes live. The new jail management system will start the following week.

The consolidated dispatch should also make it easier to communicate with local law enforcement agencies during a natural disaster like a hurricane, said Lumpkin. When the Emergency Operations Center is activated, FEMA and MEMA communicate directly with the EOC. With the way the new dispatch is set up, the county administrator can take one dispatcher with a laptop to the EOC and with either Internet or radio, communicate quickly and fluidly with all local law enforcement agencies.

The county would also be able to set up a temporary dispatch center near a large event or emergency when extra calls are expected in that area. There is also a backup dispatch location in Poplarville.

The county considered six different systems over a year long process for the consolidated dispatch, said Lumpkin. Local law enforcement officers and firefighters helped decide what new technology should be purchased, said Meitzler.