GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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January 7, 2013

Regional dispatch to serve Essex, others July 1

MIDDLETON — A new emergency communications center at the front of Middleton Jail on Manning Avenue — essentially rejected by public safety officials in Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester and other North Shore cities and towns — will soon provide emergency 911 dispatch for the town of Essex and five other North Shore communities, and likely handle emergency 911 cellphone calls for the regions well.

Proponents say the Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center will help communities which face expensive upgrades to their emergency communications, and, more importantly, smooth public safety response.

“Over the long term, it will save a lot of money,” said Topsfield fire Chief Ronald Giovannacci, an early advocate for regional dispatch, “but the impetus for the project was not to save money. The impetus behind the project is to provide a better, more effective, more efficient service.”

When the $10 million, 10,000 square foot center opens, it will handle 911 police and fire calls for Amesbury, Beverly, Essex, Middleton, Topsfield and Wenham. After years of planning, the center broke ground in October. State 911 grants paid for its construction, technology and communications equipment.

It may also play an expanded role handling emergency 911 cellphone calls from throughout Essex County and a portion of Middlesex County, said Thomas Dubas, the center’s director, taking the load off the state police dispatch center in Framingham, where all of the state’s cellphone emergency calls are now sent.

“The state is very interested to see that this works,” Dubas said.

If the new center opens handling wireless 911 calls for the region, it will employ 45 people. If not, it will employ 20.

“There is an 80 percent chance we start with 45,” Dubas said.

Dubas said the center is committed to opening July 1 so that member cities and towns do not have to budget for emergency dispatch in the coming fiscal year. When it opens, it will handle 911 calls from six communities that encompass 80,000 people, but it has the capacity to do so for more than 200,000.

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