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San Ramon council supports new emergency dispatch system

Police department, fire district seek joint communications center

The San Ramon City Council gave its initial support for the development of a joint dispatch center for emergency service providers during a public study session Tuesday night.

The San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District (SRVFPD) Board of Directors, city council and personnel from the police department and fire district came together in the council chambers to discuss adding the police department to SRVFPD's dispatch system.

"We've been dispatched by the sheriff's office for as long as San Ramon has been in existence either through contract or by the city, and they've been absolutely outstanding," said police chief Joe Gorton. "But when you look at the public safety opportunity to enhance the safety of our citizens and to become more efficient with our local partners, to me it's really the right thing to do."

According to a presentation by SRVFPD fire chief Paige Meyer and Gorton, separating San Ramon PD from the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office dispatch would be more effective for both of the city's emergency service providers.

The other communities within SRVFPD's service area -- including Danville and Alamo -- were not explicitly discussed during the workshop.

A joint dispatch center would make San Ramon emergency service providers the primary public safety answering point (PSAP) and all of the emergency calls from San Ramon residents would go directly to the call center.

Becoming a primary PSAP would shave off the 15-30 seconds it currently takes for the sheriff's office dispatch to route calls to the police department or fire district, which would also result in faster emergency response times, according to Gorton and Meyer.

The joint center would also enhance direct communication and coordination between the fire district and police department. The local dispatchers would be able to better familiarize themselves with San Ramon geography and landmarks to have a stronger knowledge of the community and enhance communication with field personnel, the chiefs said.

A 24-hour emergency call-out service for SWAT, disaster response or major traffic collision investigations would also be a component of the new center, which is not available through the sheriff's office between 12-7 a.m.

Automated vehicle location (AVL) capabilities and a new records management system (RMS) would be implemented as well. According to Gorton and Meyer, the new RMS would give dispatchers easier access to retrieve and record information.

The new AVL would provide real-time locations for emergency service vehicles allowing dispatchers to see where the closest resource is to any given emergency when a call is received.

"I was hard-pressed to find any real downsides to this," Councilman Scott Perkins said during the hour-long study session. "The only one is that six years from now I don't know what my costs are going to be, but frankly, I don't know what my costs are going to be anywhere in six years. So I'm satisfied that this is probably a safer financial risk than the sheriff's office."

The total start-up cost for the new emergency dispatch center is estimated at $1.39 million, which includes dispatch staffing and training costs as well as the new RMS hardware and software, among other expenses.

To form the joint dispatch center, the fire district would initially pay the $1.39 million, but according to Meyer, over the course of the first four years the city would pay the district back for the start-up costs in addition to the city's share of annual dispatch center costs. With the tentative payment schedule, by the fifth year the district would be fully paid back.

Starting in the fifth year, the goal would be to have a 50-50 contribution rate for the dispatch center by the district and the city.

Gorton and Meyer presented a tentative operating budget for the new combined center which, according to Gorton, is likely to be either less than or equal to the cost of continuing a contract with the sheriff's office.

Gorton said he could not provide a real number because there are several "moving parts" in configuring future costs, such as the possibility of other communities ending their contracts with the sheriff's office -- which would effect costs for those that stay.

"Some might ask us, 'Why did it take so long to this?'" said SRVFPD director Don Parker. "Quite frankly it's an idea whose time has come and I can speak from a number of different perspectives ... this can really provide the answer to a lot of problems that we don't even know about that are vital to the responding officers."

"I think this is a very good plan, and I'm happy to be a part of it," Parker added.

At the end of the discussion, the council and fire district board offered support for the development of a joint dispatch center.

Following the workshop, city and fire district personnel will draft a proposed contract to bring back to the board and council for approval at the end of May or mid-June.

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