Talks continue around proposed regional emergency dispatch program

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Talks continue around proposed regional emergency dispatch program
Southborough’s fire headquarters overlooks Cordaville Road in town.(Photo/Ben Domaingue)

REGION – A regional emergency dispatch system is still in the works in the area. But it’s still a long way away from coming to fruition.

“There’s a tremendous amount of preliminary work before public officials can make a decision about something like this,” Hudson Fire Chief Bryan Johannes told the Community Advocate last week. 

First pitched last year, the proposed dispatch would include Hudson, Marlborough, Westborough, Northborough, Grafton, Hopkinton and Southborough. 

“It’s a collaborative effort,” said Southborough Fire Chief Steven Achilles. “All of the communities involved realize that there exists an opportunity to look at how to provide a larger, more resilient and effective emergency communications center.” 

Achilles said he hopes the dispatch will support staffing within the towns. Likewise, Achilles noted, the dispatch could support more efficient aid in emergency situations.

“Having a single centralized communications center will hopefully improve our response times and services,” he said. 

According to Achilles, Southborough has one emergency communication dispatcher on at any given time. 

“There’s a lot of responses placed on a single person,” he said. 

By having a centralized dispatch system, there could be simultaneous or joint notifications between the towns. 

“Not every time does Southborough need three or four dispatchers,” said Achilles. “But there are situations where you may need to manage communications and notifications.” 

Achilles said the dispatch could optimize grant money where communities would otherwise compete against each other for funding. 

By unifying under a regional dispatch, area municipalities could leverage opportunities to receive funding, he said. 

“It improves capacity and shares costs and leverages grants and funding opportunities where there’s the benefit to multiple communities not just to one,” Achilles continued.  

The state is looking into facilitating and reducing the number of single dispatch centers. Recently, that has translated to a new regional dispatch center set up for Mansfield and Foxborough in 2019. The town of Hamilton separately hosted a study in 2017, finding that the towns of Hamilton, Danvers and Manchester would cut costs by over 30% by enacting their own regional dispatch center. 

A number of other communities have explored and/or implemented their own regionalization plans. 

Achilles notes that the state has provided a consultant, the Edward J Collins Jr. Center for Public Management, to the region and is still currently evaluating the benefits that a regional dispatch could bring. 

“It may not necessarily be saving money, but I think that there are national best practices in emergency communication centers,” said Achilles. “Like the ability to manage complex calls. From the fire side, we often rely on our mutual aid partners to support our initial response, or our more involved responses.”

While Achilles has expressed optimism, he noted that any funding for this project is still far off as departments outside of Southborough weigh their options.

“There’s been some very productive conversations,” he said. “…But, also, there are some areas that may cause a community to say that may be something that hinders us from doing it.”

The Community Advocate reached out to fire chiefs in each of the communities named as possible participants in this program. 

Officials in Marlborough, Westborough and Grafton were not available for comment as of press time.

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