RBC Dispatch switch more complicated than expected

RBC | Transferring dispatch services from the Communications Center in Meeker to the Colorado State Patrol’s (CSP) regional call center in Craig won’t be as easy as simply signing a contract and pushing a button, RBC Commissioners learned Tuesday in a work session with Jeff Davis, director of CSP’s communications branch; Elaine Moe, Craig Regional Center director and the deputy director of the Craig center. The Craig call center currently serves 12 different entities. 

Neither Davis nor Moe knew exactly when the Craig center went “live” online, but believed it was in the early 2000s. 

In the informational work session, the commissioners had a list of more than 20 questions for Davis, ranging from the length of response times to how calls are charged. Questions generated additional questions, and by the end of the session, the board agreed there is “a lot of legwork” still to be done. Both the board and Davis said public health and safety is at the top of the priority list, trumping financial considerations. 

Davis supplied additional information, noting that hiring and training the additional staff for the Craig dispatch center to handle RBC’s current call volume (five or six full time employees), would take at least 10 months, defusing the notion that transferring dispatch services to Craig could make up a portion of the anticipated $2.3 million 2021 budget shortfall. 

While some tasks could be accomplished simultaneously in a transition, Davis explained, others would be sequential, including hiring and training. 

“You could throw money at me today and point a gun at my head and I’d say I’m sorry, I can’t do it,” Davis said when asked if Craig’s call center could take on Rio Blanco County’s needs right away.

Moe commented on the experience of other communities around the state in combining their public safety answering points (PSAPs), who “all recently went through transitions to bring PSAPs together and it took a couple years and they wish they’d spent more time on it. There were hidden costs, all the personnel issues, there’s a lot to consider, along with the expectation of the service you’re getting now and the realistic expectation of what we can provide.” Gunnison and Jefferson counties were mentioned specifically.

The general idea of transferring dispatch services to Craig is still open for consideration, however. The department consumes close to $600,000 of the county’s annual budget. 

According to Davis, the five regional CSP call centers currently dispatch for 80 different entities around the state. In Moffat County, for example, the Craig Center dispatches for the sheriff’s office, but not for the Craig Police Department. Transferring the services Meeker and the county rely on would include not just the sheriff’s office, Meeker Police Department, and Meeker Volunteer Fire and Rescue but also Search and Rescue, Safehouse, Road and Bridge, jail services, animal control, and the school district. School bus drivers regularly radio in road hazards and more to the county’s dispatch. Those additional services would add costs to the overall costs, which are calculated by call per agency. RBC dispatch also responds to informational calls and administrative calls for the entities they serve. 

Several local entities still use VHF radio technology, which would require an additional cost for the Craig center to manage. RBC Sheriff Anthony Mazzola said BLM and U.S. Forest Service, which are called upon for wildland fires, still use VHF as well as the Meeker fire department.

Asked about the future of dispatch call centers in general and improving technology (ESINET and NextGen 911, which involve improved cell phone tracking, at a minimum), Davis said, “There’s always a benefit from having regional expertise, from people that live in that ZIP code dispatching, but technologically, one entity could theoretically dispatch for the whole state,” Davis said.

By NIKI TURNER | editor@ht1885.com