ST. JOHN | Town officials who are tired of delays and wary of the proposed cost of a consolidated E-911 service want to split the county into two service areas comprising the busiest cities and towns and the more quiet suburbs.
"We are not trying to divide. We are trying to fix something that is not working," Town Manager Steve Kil said Wednesday. Kil was speaking of an alternative to the drawn-out county efforts to merge 17 community-based public safety dispatch centers into a single countywide network.
Kil is proposing two public safety answering points, or PSAPs — essentially two separate 911 dispatch centers.
The first would serve East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Hobart, Lake Station, Merrillville, New Chicago, Whiting and Lake County police covering Schneider, Shelby, Winfield and rural unincorporated areas. It would serve 61 percent of the county's population, which made nearly 79 percent of the calls to police and fire for service last year.
The second dispatch would cover Cedar Lake, Crown Point, Dyer, Griffith, Highland, Lowell, Munster, Schererville and St. John. It would serve 39 percent of the population, which made 21 percent of Lake County's public safety calls last year.
Kil said his proposed suburban group would operate out of the St. John Public Safety Facility on 93rd Avenue. Calls from the communities in the service area would be routed through St. John to police and firefighters within the nine communities.
Kil said each of the two PSAPs would act as the others back-up, saving the county the cost of supporting a so-called dark site that would be equipped as a call center — but only activated if needed.
He said the suburban group acting collectively would save more than $855,000, unlike the countywide proposal that would cost at least as much — if not more — than current spending.
"Wasn't the idea of consolidation to save money?" Kil said. "We are proposing this in that spirit."
Kil said he has received enthusiastic support from the suburban leaders with whom he has spoken.
County officials supporting the one-county system take a dim view of St. John's proposal.
Brian Hitchcock, executive director of the county E-911 consolidation effort, said Wednesday, "I wasn't brought in for that."
Tom Dabertin, a consultant for the county's E-911 project, questions whether state law permits two autonomous E-911 networks in the same count because "having two staffs and facilities would lead to obvious duplications."
The state has mandated that Lake County consolidate its emergency dispatch centers to create a more efficient system.