CROWN POINT — Lake E-911 officials said they are solving two start-up problems that have plagued their consolidation of public safety communications for the last two years.
Mark Swiderski, the county's E-911 director, told county police and fire officials attending the Lake County Public Safety Communications Commission Thursday the department is maintaining a full staff of full-time communications dispatchers.
Until recently, the county didn't have enough people to handle the hundreds of thousands of calls and radio communications associated with emergency and nonemergency services Lake County deals with since most of its cities and towns joined the county’s E-911 network in 2015. Those communities are Crown Point, Dyer, East Chicago, Gary, Griffith, Hammond, Highland, Hobart, Lake Station, Lowell, Munster, Merrillville, New Chicago, St. John and Whiting.
The county previously was forced to rely on mandatory overtime hours that was burning out the staff and part-time dispatchers.
Swiderski said he has concentrated on recruiting and training qualified dispatchers since he was hired in August 2016.
"This is a testament to our trainers and supervisors; the fact that we have gone from 62 to 95 in less than a year is outstanding," he said, adding recent pay raises for dispatchers also helped reduce turnover.
Swiderski, said the turnover was as high as 32 percent last year. He said it has been reduced to less than 15 percent in recent months.
He said the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials said turnover is usually this high during the first year of many community dispatching consolidations. Officials said a number of Lake dispatchers who previously worked in smaller, quieter communities disliked the higher volume and intensity of calls generated in the county's largest cities.
Dan Murchek, a Lake County police deputy commander, said it also was thanks to Swiderski, who became director about a year ago.
Swiderski said he hopes by early next year to have a communication patch in place that will allow Cedar Lake and Schererville to communicate more directly with the rest of the county's police, fire and emergency medical service personnel.
Cedar Lake and Schererville chose to form a separate communications network called Southcom when the state ordered all 92 counties to consolidate county, city and town public safety dispatch services.
They have sued to get the same access to the E-911 radio infrastructure as the rest of the county. The dispute remains in mediation over how much the two towns must pay the county for this service.
However, a statewide radio system being formed late this year will permit the two towns to speak with the rest of the county over a parallel communications patch. It requires responders to make several electronic switches. "It is much better than the place where we were before," Schererville Police Chief David Dowling said.
Swiderski said the county is working through the logistics of bringing the Lakes of the Four Seasons fire department into the county E-911 system as early as the end of October.