9-1-1 System Vote

Revamp of parish's 9-1-1 system among items on Oct. 4 ballot



BOGALUSA Washington Parish voters will have more than just the considerable task of sorting through long lists of candidates and selecting those they want to fill offices ranging from parish councilman to governor when they enter the voting booths on Oct. 4, they'll need to decide if they want to support a service designed to support the well-being of everybody in the parish.

Voters will be asked to decide for or against authorizing the Washington Parish Communications District to levy an additional emergency monthly telephone service charge for residential and business telephone service to fund a centralized 9-1-1 facility and service.

Proceeds from the service charge, which would be $2.50 a month per telephone line, would be used to acquire, construct, build, improve, equip and/or operate and maintain a centralized parish 9-1-1 emergency communications facility and would fund improvements to enhance the district's ability to receive and process calls made to the 9-1-1 system.

In 1988, voters approved a monthly charge of 55-cents for residential service and $1.43 for business service. If approved, the additional levy would take effect Jan. 1, 2004.

District Chairman James Coleman, urged passage of the measure. And in a recently produced video on the project, Sen. Jerry Thomas, Rep. Ben Nevers, Parish President Toye Taylor, Parish Fire Association President Everett Robins, Director of Emergency Preparedness Tom Thiebaud, Bogalusa Mayor Mack McGehee, Franklinton Mayor Earle Brown, Bogalusa Police Chief Jerry Agnew, Bogalusa Fire Chief David Wascom, Sheriff Aubrey Jones and others also spoke in its favor.

Currently, 9-1-1 calls in Washington Parish are received by the sheriff's office, the Bogalusa Police Department, the Franklinton Police Department or the Bogalusa Fire Department, four separate and, in some cases, widespread dispatch points.

Duplicate Costs

As a result, there is a duplication of equipment and costs, and coordination of operations during emergencies involving multi-agency response, such as weather-related events, can be difficult.

And because those agencies have lone dispatchers who must also handle other communication, such as when a law enforcement incident is in progress, 9-1-1 callers can be put on hold before receiving assistance.

A consolidated service would reportedly enable improved service throughout the parish.

"This proposed communications center will help provide faster and better response to all emergencies by providing the latest technology and tools to our dispatchers," said Coleman. "By locating all emergency communicators in one facility, team work between them will naturally improve for the benefit of all our citizens."

The parish communications center would be located in Sheridan in a hurricane proof and terrorism secure facility. It would include five fully compatible continuously manned workstations.

Three people would handle law enforcement dispatches, and two others would answer calls, provide emergency dispatch services and dispatch fire departments.

Emergency dispatch personnel would be able to guide callers in performing life-saving first aid while they await the arrival of an ambulance. And "panic button" services would be available to elderly parish residents.

Information concerning residence or business layout and any special medical needs of occupants, if provided, could be stored on computer for the use of emergency responders.

A Global Positioning Satellite-based automatic vehicle location system would assist responders in locating currently hard-to-find rural sites throughout the parish as well as the point of origin of cell phone calls.

And the center would include a fully integrated, primary Emergency Operations Center for the parish. The current EOP center, which is not hurricane or terrorism secure and does not have electronic connection to existing dispatch rooms, would become a backup facility.

Improved Service

The improved service might even enable a reduction in fire insurance costs. And increased personnel needs would mean more local job opportunities.

Because of the special nature of the building and the complexity of the computer and communications equipment, it would reportedly take about a year to bring the new center on line.

Support is widespread throughout the emergency response community and among local leadership, as is evidenced by the videotape.

"This is a critical need in our parish and one that needs to be addressed as soon as possible," Nevers said.

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