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Regional 911 call centers facing state cuts

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Capitol Area Council of Governments has informed the Travis County Commissioners Court that state cuts could cause the shuttering of as many as twelve 911 call centers in the region. Four of these – units at Lago Vista, Westlake Hills, Lakeway, and Pflugerville – are in Travis County.


Council of Governments officials believe that they’ll only need to close the centers in Lago Vista, Westlake Hills, and Lakeway as part of their cutbacks. Should that prove true, only eight centers in the region would be eliminated.


Danny Hobby, Travis’ county executive in charge of emergency services, suggested at yesterday’s court meeting that the closings in his jurisdiction could create “operation delays.” He also noted that there would be future concerns.


“I never look in my world (at) what is happening today; I look at what is my growth potential for tomorrow,” he said. “In regards to the shutting down of (these units), they may only have two calls today … but with growth patterns … all the sudden here we are, and we’ve already done away with all of the equipment.”


According to a memo from Hobby, the Lago Vista and Westlake Hills stations each currently average two calls per day. The center for Lakeway averages 10 calls per day.


The facilities at Lago Vista and Westlake Hills are secondary centers – units that take a call after it has been transferred from, in this case, the Combined Transportation, Emergency, and Communications Center in Austin. If CAPCOG should act to shut those units, calls would be handled entirely by that unit. Travis County 911 would assume responsibility for the Lakeway calls.


Together, the respective closings would save just under $135,000 a year. All told, the council is hoping to save roughly $814,000 on its 911call center program.


“Ironically … we’ve been having some discussions within the (CAPCOG) board about the (units) that have a very low volume of calls and whether we needed to continue to fund those anyway” said Executive Director Betty Voights. “So it’s possible that closing a few of these (centers) could be relatively painless.”


Paul Knight, who represents the Travis County Sheriff’s Office at the Communications Center echoed Voights’ statement. “The impact on operations … would be manageable from a call volume standpoint,” he said.


But he sees the potential for other problems. “The thing that worries me the most is not the volume of calls; (it’s) the potential set back in time, where a call comes to a (center) and the equipment is not available to transfer the call, address, and name information from one point to another” he added. “Potentially, we could have to pick up a phone and transfer our call, old-style, out to a police department. That’s just a big setback in time that makes me real nervous.”


Money for equipment in the CAPCOG’s 2012–13 911operations budget has been zeroed out.


The court will take a week to compile a document that it will authorize its intergovernmental affairs department to circulate at the capitol. The Capitol Area Council of Governments will meet this morning to discuss its options.

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