Some Cumberland County Commissioners, who serve on a task force that is developing a combined City/County 911 operations center, are disappointed in the proposed organizational structure. The task force of commissioners, members of Fayetteville City Council and public safety officials met last week. It was their third meeting on the proposed consolidation of 911 service.
Consultants with Mission Critical Partners of Raleigh hope the task force can agree to terms of joint responsibility to meet a May 31 deadline to apply for available state grants. Commissioners Jimmy Keefe and Jeanette Council balked at the suggestion that City government would operate the 911 center. Asked if she thought the County should be in charge, she responded with a sharp “yes.” Council said she assumed all along that the multimillion-dollar facility would be managed by County government. Commissioner Jimmy Keefe, who has experience on City Council, said he couldn’t support the proposition until he learned more of the details. Keefe objected to differences between City and County officials being “discussed in a public setting.”
Because 60 percent of emergency calls for service are in the city, Mission Critical Partners proposed that it be in charge of operations. The consultants’ proposal is for the County to be the grant sponsor. Their recommendation was modeled after combined 911 centers already in place in Guilford and Wake Counties, where Greensboro and Raleigh take the lead. Ironically, local public safety officials including the sheriff, rural fire departments and emergency management professionals support the concept as presented and have done most of the planning.
“This is a good program,” said Freddie Johnson, president of the Cumberland County Fire Chiefs Association. “Each of the user agencies would have input” as to operational protocols, said Assistant County Manager Tracey Jackson. The user group would consider detailed recommendations and present them to a joint advisory committee. County and City managers would provide joint oversight. Consultants are encouraging the task force to focus first on securing available state grants. To qualify, the task force must come to agreement on governance and who will what. Then it will turn its attention to the cost and location.
The need for a combined 911 facility intensified after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania. Actual consideration of a local, merged 911 department has been under consideration for about ten years.
Fayetteville and Cumberland County operate separate 911 emergency dispatch centers in City hall and the County law enforcement center. They do not meet contemporary survivability standards in the event of an attack. Officials recommend that communications facilities be located outside urban centers. A 40,000-square-foot 911 headquarters is proposed to be located on city-owned property on Fields Road off Cedar Creek Road. It would be a fortress-like, hardened building capable of withstanding a category four hurricane. City and county officials have agreed to a price tag of about $30 million. Keefe has said previously that it’s important for everyone to understand the need for