Like Lake County, Porter County’s 911 consolidation isn’t quite complete. Chesterton and Porter and still using their own police dispatchers.
Ultimately, Chesterton and Porter should combine with the rest of Porter County for 911 dispatching.
This is a complex situation with a lot of moving parts — some moving faster than others — but it’s a good time for the two towns to join the rest of the county, and at no cost to their taxpayers.
Currently, the two towns have their own dispatchers in a joint center that handles police calls in their towns. Fire calls are handled by Porter County Central Communications, where all the 911 calls in the county are routed.
That’s an essential point.
Calls to 911 for police services in Chesterton and Porter first go to the county center in Valparaiso, then are forwarded to the dispatcher on duty for Chesterton and Porter, creating a built-in delay. The two Duneland dispatchers on duty handle all police calls for Chesterton and Porter.*
Admittedly, the police departments don’t have many emergencies to deal with on a normal day. But preparations should be made for the worst-case scenario, when a disaster happens. Two dispatchers might not be enough to handle all the radio traffic for that scenario.
Chesterton and Porter officials are investing about $55,000 apiece to purchase equipment needed to communicate with Porter County Central Communications when the latter switches to a digital radio system. That’s scheduled to take place when the call center begins operating out of the old jail, where the new equipment will be installed.
The new equipment will send data about the caller to the two towns, so it’s essential that the new equipment be compatible, just as the old equipment already is.
We agree with Porter County Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North — a Chesterton resident, by the way — who said delays in emergency situations are dangerous.
Chesterton and Porter officials concur about that point, but as Chesterton Councilman Emerson Delaney told The Times, Porter County officials are making a lot of changes to improve the 911 dispatch center.
“Our goal is to make this the No. 1 911 center in the state,” Porter County Executive Director of Public Safety Mike Brickner said.
Just about everyone agrees the shake-up was necessary and is looking forward to the results.
By waiting to complete the consolidation, Chesterton and Porter are missing the opportunity to give guidance that will better serve their residents as these changes are being made.
The Portage Police Department, too, is missing out on the opportunity to improve the system by not participating in the trial run of silent dispatch. Under that system, texts about nonemergency calls are sent to officers’ laptop computers instead of over the air.
That’s just one of the changes being made to the 911 dispatching that officers out on the streets every day should be evaluating to give their feedback.
The county should be welcoming to participation by, and feedback from, all first responders in the county. And Portage, Chesterton and Porter should be eager to help.
There are a lot of changes coming, and Portage and the two towns should be helping decide what the future of the 911 center should be.
By joining now, Chesterton and Porter could save their residents money that doesn’t need to be spent, and make the 911 system the most effective and cost-efficient it can be for all involved.
*This editorial has been changed from the original, to correct the number of dispatchers on duty.