Cutting Out the 9-1-1 Middleman

MontCo wants to consolidate emergency call center operations to save time, money

Montgomery County wants to take your 9-1-1 call -- if you live in Abington, Lower Merion or Cheltenham, that is.

Currently, a call center in Eagleville, Pa. handles the dispatching of all fire and EMS units and most police officers for the county. But in those three municipalities, emergency calls first go to a local police station, who determines your need and either sends officers or transfers the call to the county.
Here's a scenario: Let's say you live in Cheltenham and your husband is having a heart attack. You rush to the phone and dial 9-1-1. When that call connects you are talking to an emergency dispatcher at your local police station. In a panic, you yell for help explaining a need for an ambulance. Instead of sending one right away, the dispatcher must transfer your call to the county who must send help.

County officials want to cut out that middle man, hoping to get help to you sooner. "There will be a faster response time," said county safety director Tom Sullivan.

In 10 other municipalities -- Horsham, Upper Moreland, Montgomery, Upper Dublin, Springfield, Pottstown, Upper Merion, Plymouth and Whitemarsh -- the opposite happens when you need police assistance. You call 9-1-1, the call is answered by the county and then transferred to your local police department.

The towns affected aren't against the plan, but are a little skeptical. They're worried the county won't be able to handle the influx of calls and want to know what will happen to the staff inside their departments. The county is also looking to save money. It costs the county around $1.1 million a year to allow the towns to operate their own call centers, Sullivan told The Intelligencer. The new plan would save money, though the exact amount has not been specified.

"I think we all want to help the county offset the cost of the system. On the other hand, we want to make sure the system can handle our unique needs from the different departments," president of the chief's association Randall Hummel said.

In the end, the towns are not required to participate in the proposed plan, but if they don't they will be charged $40,000 a year to have the county maintain its computer and phone systems.

What would you rather have -- a faster response time in an emergency or saving local jobs.

"I don't really care as long as they answer and get to my emergency," said one county resident.

Contact Us