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Dispatch center consolidation

Published (5/6/2011)
By Mike Cook
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The state patrol is consolidating its

10 public safety answering points across the state to three: Duluth, Rochester and Roseville.

Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder) sponsors HF977 that would prohibit the closure or consolidation of any PSAPs. The bill was held over May 2 by the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee. Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Brainerd) sponsors SF1365, which awaits action by the Senate Transportation Committee.

The bill would also require the Department of Public Safety to report to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2011, on the current dispatch system and any proposed changes.

A 2003 law mandated a study and report of PSAP consolidations, and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty created a work group in 2009 to develop a comprehensive strategy regarding the consolidation of all state PSAPs. The current plan, in part, comes from the work group.

PSAPs answer 911 and non-emergency calls with the purpose of dispatching state patrol services. In Greater Minnesota, operators also dispatch Department of Natural Resources officers and Department of Transportation vehicles, such as snowplows. Current centers slated to close are in Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Mankato, Marshall, St. Cloud, Thief River Falls and Virginia.

“This is not in the best interests of the citizens of the state of Minnesota,” Rep. John Ward (DFL-Brainerd) told the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee April 14. “This is going to cause some significant public safety problems and issues for us.”

Cornish and Ward expressed concern about the potential quality of service, in part, because technology doesn’t always work as it should, and that more localized dispatchers know the area, such as landmarks commonly used for directions, better than someone hundreds of miles away.

Col. Mark Dunaski, state patrol chief, told the public safety committee he is “100 percent certain” the change would not compromise public safety.

DPS Deputy Commissioner Mary Ellison told the transportation committee three PSAPs average less than 10 calls per day.

The consolidation is not just about a cost savings, although it is expected to save

$1 million annually. Dunaski said all non-metro centers are “significantly understaffed” based on recommendations in a 2004 legislative report, and that 34 additional staffers would be needed if all centers were kept open. “The current level of staffing would be more than adequate to accommodate the workload at three consolidated centers.” However, about 43 radio communication officers would potentially need to relocate.

He said the Transportation and Public Safety departments support the consolidation plan.

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