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Lebanon goes in on 911 co-location, keep dispatchers at new station

Jared Felkins • Jun 20, 2018 at 7:34 PM

The Lebanon City Council plans to vote Thursday on final reading on budget amendments for $6.225 million to renovate the current Emergency Services Unit building to become the new Lebanon police station, which will be equipped with dispatch technology and dispatchers. 

But with the Wilson County 911 Board’s plan for co-location to bring each municipality’s police and fire departments, the sheriff’s office and Wilson Emergency Management Agency’s dispatchers under one roof, Lebanon’s most recent police station plans appear to be redundant.

According to Lebanon police Chief Mike Justice, the plans to provide some redundancy in a way, but he said it’s not a bad thing.

Justice said Lebanon police will participate in Wilson County 911’s co-location, but dispatchers will also be housed at the new police station. He said one dispatcher will work in house at Wilson County 911 and also serve as a call taker. That person will relay information to the other dispatchers at the police station in real time via computer, and they will continue to work with officers in the field to get them to the calls while the call taker continues to answer calls.

“We will bring a radio down there [to 911],” Justice said. “If a radio costs $5,000 or whatever, you can’t put a price on a kid that’s been shot or something like that. They’re going to all help each other. As the calls come in, they are going to help get that call to our dispatcher and make sure they get the help they need.

“Basically, it’s huge that they are in the same room together. Just sitting in the same room together just speeds things up. We are getting to almost 100 officers, and as that grows, the number of dispatchers will grow. We will need the space to allow for that growth.”

In fact, it was Justice, along with Sheriff Robert Bryan, who ramped up conversations in May 2016 that had previously started about co-location between Wilson County 911 and the emergency agencies in Wilson County. Scrutiny grew at the time after a 10-year-old boy accidently shot himself while home alone with his 11-year-old brother.

The older brother called 911, which was answered by a Wilson County 911 call taker, who asked the boy a few questions and transferred the call to a Lebanon dispatcher. Typically, any call that pertains to a shooting is routed to Lebanon police.

The Lebanon police dispatcher asked the boy similar questions before hanging up on the child. The call-to-response time was six minutes, Justice said at the time. He said the six-minute response time would have been lower with direct routing.

After a few meetings, Justice and Bryan came together to test out co-location on a smaller scale during the Wilson County Fair and have since used the plan each year since.

“Basically the model is, the sheriff and I went into a co-location situation during the Wilson County Fair,” Justice said. “It involves everyone, and it works amazing.”

The Wilson County 911 Board currently awaits plans from the architect to determine the cost and best path forward to renovate the current Wilson County 911 facility to accommodate the additional dispatchers,” according to Wilson County 911 Board chair David Hale. Hale expects the total cost will be about $1 million with about $600,000 dedicated to technology.   

“There are still a lot of details that will have to be worked out as far as everyone being in the same facility, but as I understand it with conversations with [Justice], he plans to have someone in there who will communicate with the other dispatchers in the other location,” Hale said. “Chief Justice has communicated to me that he wants to be directly involved in co-location with us.”

Hale said the initial plan would be for the 911 call takers to move out of the current facility while it’s renovated and move into the WEMA facility, which would provide backup for 911 in the event the 911 facility is significantly damaged in a natural disaster. He said the move would expedite the project by 45-60 days.

“We have laid out the current facility to exceed the number of dispatch points that each entity has asked to have and have some additional space,” Hale said. “We see this as a five-to-seven-year facility, and as growth happens, it will facilitate the need to build a new facility.”

According to the various agencies, Mt. Juliet will get three stations for a lead dispatcher and two other dispatchers for police and fire; the sheriff’s office will get two stations for eight dispatchers and a supervisor; WEMA will get four to five stations for seven dispatchers; and Lebanon police will get the one station for a call taker-dispatcher.

“I think, when this is all said and done, that we will have a state-of-the-art facility like we’ve never had before in Wilson County,” Hale said. “I’m glad we’ve been able to be good stewards of money to be able to do this.”

And there’s also talk to add a dedicated dispatcher for Lebanon fire calls that are currently taken by Lebanon dispatchers in addition to police, animal control and public works calls.

“I understand the fire chief wants to have a fire dispatcher there so that all of the fire groups will be in the same location,” Hale said.

Lebanon fire Chief Chris Dowell said he approves of the plan.  

“It only makes sense,” Dowell said. “It’s all about numbers, and it’s all about times. Our dispatchers do a good job, but sometimes they do get a little overwhelmed with all the calls coming in. I’m still going to talk to the mayor about it, but I’m for it. I’m going to fight tooth and nail to be a part of it.”

Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said he’d like to have more conversations with both Hale and Dowell before he made a decision. 

But not everyone was pleased with Lebanon’s plans for co-location. Wilson County 911 director Karen Moore said she thought it was a waste of money to have two call centers.

“I will say spending that amount of money won’t stop things from happening like it did that night with that young man,” Moore said regarding the new police station’s price tag. “However, co-location enables multiple people to assist in high call volume times.”

Moore said she felt like Justice wasn’t fully committed to the co-location plan.

“If we would have been in the same room, the call [regarding the child who shot himself] wouldn’t have gotten dropped,” she said. “We would have seen they were overburdened, and someone else could have jumped on it.”

In terms of the $6.225 million cost of the proposed new police station, Justice said dispatch would be about a 10thof the total cost and take up about 1,300 square feet of the planned 14,000-square-feet facility. He said dispatch currently occupies 350 square feet at the Tennessee Boulevard facility. 

Justice also said the new station will eliminate major air conditioning and security issues at the current facility, and it will provide more space for public works, which will occupy the building once police moves.

But Justice reiterated he’s dedicated to the co-location plan.

“The day they get done, we are moving in with them,” he said. “I can’t speak for them, but I would imagine each of the agencies will have redundancy, and we have offered space for a secondary fallback spot if they need it.”

According to Lebanon City Councilor Rob Cesternino, the plans for the city to participate in co-location and provide a new police station make sense.

“Given the rising costs of construction, I believe this cost is a reasonable expense,” Cesternino said. “Relative to a co-location of 911 service, I am of the mindset that this is an area where it would be hard to convince me to cede the total authority over this critical operation. Given changing political leadership, I would expect a future situation where the agenda of the county and that of the city do not match. Also, as we continue to grow we, of course, will need to become more process driven, and I would want the LPD chief and city leadership to control those processes.”

Lebanon Councilor Fred Burton, who is also a member of the Wilson County 911 Board, simply said, “It passed.”

The Lebanon City Council will meet in a special-called meeting Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Town Meeting Hall at 200 N. Castle Heights Ave. to consider the new police station plan on final reading.

The agenda also includes:

• budget amendments for $6.2 million to renovate the current Emergency Services Unit building at 1017 Sparta Pike to become the new police station. The current police station is on Tennessee Boulevard.

• a contract for the addition to and renovation of the building for the police station at 1017 Sparta Pike.

• budget amendments for a new $259,414 sanitation truck for the recycling program.

• new job positions in the Lebanon Fire Department, public services, stormwater and natural gas departments.

Councilors approved the police station and sanitation truck on first reading Tuesday evening, and saw the need to call a special meeting to fully approve the items and a few others. 

New job positions were previously under one ordinance on Tuesday’s agenda, but councilors voted to defer that ordinance, citing the need to see more details about the individual positions.

Lebanon Democrat news editor Sinclaire Sparkman and staff writer Jacob Smith contributed to this report. 

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