LOCK HAVEN - Clinton County government officials are tip-toeing onto an ambitious, multi-year journey that might - emphasis on the word 'might' - lead to a new and modern emergency communications headquarters.
The two biggest questions that will determine the success of that goal are location and money.
When the 9-1-1 Center - now in the basement of the Susque-View Home Inc. - was built over 30 years ago, it met most the area's needs, county Emergency Services Director Kevin Fanning said. But much has changed in three decades.
Dispatcher Tammy Swope and Dispatch Supervisor Tom Mitchell man the consoles at the Department of Emergency Services in the basement of Susque-View Home Inc. in Lock Haven. County government officials are looking at some major changes, and possibly a new home for the facility.
JIM RUNKLE/THE EXPRESS
Over the years renovations have been made to the center, but only so much can be done in such a limited space. There is no way to increase the foot print and provide desperately needed additional space, Fanning said, and the complexity of services provided by a 9-1-1 Center cannot realistically be provided in the current facility.
Depending on where the center actually lands, if it is built or renovated, it could cost taxpayers:
n About $2 million for renovations,
n Or about $2.6 million for new construction,
n Not including annual fees, some equipment costs, expert fees and a contingency account of between $209,149 and $259,674.
"I knew it was going to be expensive," Commissioner Joel Long said. "The county doesn't own a building that can be readily remodeled and the building we looked at with the idea of purchasing was cost prohibitive."
Commissioner Adam Coleman added that the building they examined was "an engineering nightmare."
"We're not looking at the near future," Long added. "This is a long-term plan, but now, with this detailed explanation, we have an idea of where we might be going."
Local officials are looking at two options: an upgrade at the present facility in the Susque-View basement or a new build in the vicinity of the Clinton County Correctional Facility in McElhattan.
As for the reason for the upgrade, Fanning listed a multitude of factors but the size of the present facility, and the inability to grow with the facility's expanding rolls in the community, are a big concern. In addition, he said, aging equipment will likely become an increasing problem as old systems become obsolete and replacement parts become hard to come by.
Michael C. McGrady and John Riley, of MCM Consulting Group Inc., gave local officials an overview of the proposal last month - but in these times of economic uncertainty, the Clinton County Commissioners are looking at the five-year plan as a long-term option and are making no immediate plans for a transition.
The 9-1-1 Center has a budgeted staff of 14, including seven full-time telecommunicators, four shift supervisors and three part-time telecommunicators. The center occupies a minimal space inside the loading dock area extending to the rear building elevators. The current configuration of the dispatch center includes three dispatcher positions and one supervisor position.
In addition, Fanning said, the telephone system is also no longer manufactured and maintenance of the system is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive.
Radio consoles are currently used by the employees for radio communications with the field users. The manufacturer has issued a notice of discontinuing service for these consoles in 2014.
The 20-year-old radio system is "rock solid," according to Fanning, but it's only a matter of time before the center runs into problems finding replacement parts.
The recently completed "needs assessment" offered an extensive look at what the future might hold for emergency services in Clinton County.
The Department of Emergency Service is charged with providing 9-1-1 call-taking, dispatching and emergency management services for residents, visitors, police, fire, EMS and rescue services.
With an obligation to protect 37,914 residents in 19,235 permanent housing units in 898 square miles, the task is complex.
According to Fanning, those duties resulted in about 104,012 incoming calls -emergency, non-emergency and administrative - to the center in 2008.
The local center is part of a statewide system of Emergency Management Agencies (EMA) that feed into both the state's EMA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but its primary responsibilities focus on what happens within the county's borders.
Fanning said he recommended the study because the county needed to evaluate the existing 9-1-1Center/Emergency Operations Center (EOC) facilities and equipment systems in order to determine "the most needed improvements and upgrades to develop a comprehensive, detailed, long-term plan for the future."
The study group included the consultants, Fanning, EMA Coordinator Bill Frantz, 9-1-1 Coordinator Joann Furl and others. The project kick-off meeting was held last January.
The commissioners who attended the consulting group's update on the plans pronounced themselves pleased with the results, while wondering aloud how the county might pay for such an effort.
Some funding could arrive via the annual allocation of wireless 9-1-1 money from a surcharge on telephone bills.
A portion might come from the county general fund. An additional source of funding could come from federal grants or appropriations. These grants are usually a one-time source of funds.
The county is building a storage facility for the county prison, for the county records and a new garage space for hazardous materials response vehicles and equipment.
This property is a logical location for a new Department of Emergency Services office, Fanning said. The site is out of the 500-year floodplain and the only impacts that might affect the site would be winter storms, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, or a transportation hazmat event.
A new site with new equipment and technology will improve operations of the 9-1-1 Center and EMA's planning and response to flooding, natural disaster or other emergencies, Fanning said.