April 12, 2007

911 dispatchers get a new home


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland County 911 Center Dispatch Coordinator Nick Wagner, right, chats with Senior Dispatcher Dave Tanner in the new center on the third floor of the Public Safety Building as workers in the background continue to fine-tune the system. The county was in the process of making the move to the new center on Wednesday.

Staff Reporter

Set aside the positive impact it is expected to have on emergency response in Cortland County, set aside the federal standards it will help the county meet, and the county’s new 911 Center is still, on sight alone, a far cry from the dingy, antiquated space it will replace.
“It really is something to look at, isn’t it,” Sheriff Lee Price said, as county employees worked to put the finishing touches on the approximately 1,200-square-foot dispatch center on the third floor of the Public Safety Building. “When you compare it to downstairs, it almost looks like science fiction or something.”
The official startup of the new center had to be delayed from Wednesday, as the county awaited the arrival of special modems to bridge any gaps between the old dispatch systems and the new consoles, but Dispatch Coordinator Nick Wagner was hopeful the center would be operating by this afternoon.
The new center features brand-new touch-screen computers with state-of-the-art software that will allow the county to adapt to the rapidly changing nature of communication, Wagner said.
“We have to keep up with the public,” Wagner said. “Ultimately we’re going to need be able to respond to text and video messaging, automatic crash notification … it’s going to be an ongoing challenge — this is just one important step — but I’m looking forward to it.”
The most important immediate modernization will be the ability to place the location of calls from cellular phones using GPS technology, Wagner said.
Not all phones have GPS, and getting wireless service providers online may take time, but ultimately the goal is to allow dispatchers the ability to quickly triangulate the location of any wireless call.
“Our job is to get the right people in the right place, and at very least this will give us an idea of where to start,” Wagner said.
The new consoles also offer a mapping program that essentially pinpoints the location and nature of all active calls, Wagner pointed out, and they’ll allow dispatchers to make all of the contacts necessary for each incoming call in a more efficient and user-friendly manner.
The dispatch center has seen an exponential increase in calls — the total number received in the first quarter of 2007, 13,427, exceeded the 13,264 calls received in all of 1998 — in the 13 years since the current dispatch equipment was installed, Wagner said.
“The key word is efficiency — these machines should help us eliminate errors and help us better serve Cortland County,” he said. “It’s an expensive process, keeping up with technology, but I really hope we’re spending the taxpayers’ money well.”
Moducom, the company with which the county contracted for the equipment and software, has agreed to provide updates to the system free of charge, Wagner said, meaning the new system should last the county 10 to 15 years.
The county’s dispatch workers have done training with the new consoles, Wagner said, and while there may be a slight learning curve, the transition should be relatively seamless.
“Procedurally nothing’s changed, it’s just different technology,” he said. “Our people have worked really hard — it’s been a difficult few years with the increased workload … I couldn’t be happier with how they’ve responded to all the changes.”
Price noted that the ergonomic design of the consoles — each of the six work stations feature individual temperature and light controls — should be good for morale.
“It’s going to help when they’ve got an eight-hour shift where it never calms down,” Price said.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said one of the reasons for moving dispatch to the third floor was to eliminate the responsibility of dealing with walk-in traffic on the first floor of the Public Safety Building.
“We didn’t want them to have to be doing reception on top of dispatching,” Schrader said.
The first-floor space that will be vacated once the move is complete will likely be filled by the Sheriff’s Records Department, a logical fit, Schrader said.
“Most of the people coming into the building are looking for records, so it makes sense to have them there,” he said.
Total, the relocation and the new equipment will have cost approximately $750,000 when all is said and done, Schrader said.
The county received two state wireless 911 funding grants totaling $568,400 that will help pay for the equipment that will help locate cellular phone callers, and buy new telephone and radio equipment, said Senior Dispatcher David Tanner.
The rest was paid for with county funds.
Price said that he was grateful for all the work put into the new center by Schrader, Rob Corpora, director of information technology for the county, the Buildings and Grounds Department and other county employees.
“They really did a terrific job, now I just want to see it up and running,” he said.



County bus shelter plan hits snag

Staff Reporter

A long-discussed bus shelter at the Greyhound/Trailways station on Grant Street has suffered a setback, as the operator of the station has declined to let the county place the shelter on the site.
After months of discussions, Ken Morey, who operates the Greyhound/Trailways depot at 42 Grant St., informed the county that he would not sublet the property to the county for the shelter, County Administrator Scott Schrader told the General Services Committee on Tuesday.
Schrader said he would be contacting Fred Compagni, who owns the property and rents it to Morey, and he was hopeful that Compagni would be willing to agree to a lease with the county.
Neither Compagni nor Morey could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Schrader said that Morey was primarily concerned that the shelter would increase insurance costs.
“We’re offering him a much nicer and safer shelter than what they have there now, so I don’t necessarily understand it,” Schrader said.
The county was asking that Morey assume liability for the shelter. They plan to make the same request of Compagni, Schrader said.
However, Schrader said, the county was willing to perform maintenance on the shelter and if, for instance, it was informed of a maintenance issue that then became a liability issue, the county could be found liable.
He said he did not think the county, which is self-insured, would be held legally liable unless it failed to provide adequate maintenance.
The current shelter outside the station — which is closed nights and weekends, making a shelter a necessity — is an open wooden structure that is poorly lit and presents safety issues, Schrader said.
“It’s certainly substandard in many regards,” he said. “The lighting is poor, it really doesn’t provide enough visibility in terms of what’s going on near there, and it looks like it was just cobbled together … it’s certainly not a good first image for a traveler coming to Cortland.”
The shelter the county is looking to place on the site is a 40 square-foot structure that would include lighting and an emergency telephone, Schrader said.
It would serve Greyhound and Trailways riders during hours the depot is closed, and could also serve as a stop for Cortland Transit.
The shelter, which is currently in storage, cost approximately $5,125, he said, $2,000 of which came from a grant from the Cortland Savings Foundation secured by the Social Justice Cluster, which had lobbied for the shelter for years.


Psychiatrist job proposed by county

Staff Reporter

The county has completed an exhaustive search for a full-time psychiatrist in the Mental Health Department, but the new position won’t come cheap.
Both the Health Committee on Wednesday, and the Personnel Committee this morning, endorsed an offer of $205,000 annually to Dr. Naiyar Zaman to serve as staff psychiatrist for the Mental Health Department.
Zaman, who has worked most recently as chief fellow at SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Division, will fill a long-standing need for a full-time psychiatrist, County Administrator Scott Schrader said.
“The biggest reason for this is stability. We’ve been looking for a long time at hiring a full-time position as opposed to contracting for this service,” Schrader said.
The county has long had a contract in place with Dr. Edward Merhoff to provide psychiatry services as needed, for $93 per hour.
Over a full year, Merhoff’s hourly rate equals out to about $190,000, Schrader told the Health Committee.
“The issue is, it’s only a year-to-year contract, so at any time he could opt out and leave us in a difficult position,” Schrader said, adding that the contract will include a $20,000 penalty if Zaman opts out. The county could use that amount to hire a company to search for a replacement, he said, noting the search that yielded Zaman lasted more than a year.
“It hasn’t been easy finding a qualified psychiatrist,” Schrader said. “This position — it’s a five-year agreement — would provide for long-term planning.”
Mental Health has an adult waiting list for psychiatric services that is 70 to 80 people long, Mental Health Administrator Mike Kilmer told the Health Committee, which adds up to an approximately 48-day wait for services.
Merhoff currently has a client list of approximately 700 people through the department, Kilmer said, and a full-time psychiatrist had become a necessity.
Schrader initially told the Health Committee that he was hopeful Merhoff’s contract would remain in place to help reduce the waiting period, but just this morning he received a letter of resignation from Merhoff.