STERLING – County officials and emergency responders said Monday's launch of the consolidated dispatch system went smoothly.
The new system in Sterling went live at 6 a.m. with a representative dispatch group of one each from Sterling, Rock Falls and CGH Medical Center. The dispatchers work 12-hour shifts, and are joined by a fourth team member from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. each day.
"A majority of bad things happen during that 12-hour period, so there is an extra person for what is called the power shift," Whiteside County Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi said.
Wilhelmi said the staff was well prepared, even though new director Claudia Garcia didn't start her job until June 19. Garcia had familiarity working in her favor, however, because she had been managing the Sterling Police Department dispatchers and support staff prior to being named county dispatch director.
"There's always a little apprehension with anything new, but the dispatchers were as prepared as they could be," Wilhelmi said. "The biggest challenge now is just getting everyone used to working together."
Lt. John Booker was at the dispatch center at 5:30 a.m. for the launch. He said the biggest problem they had to deal with was easily addressed.
"We had a radio issue transmitting from our base to the fire base," Booker said. "We had a new piece of equipment that wasn't working, but it was replaced."
While police and EMS had a few early calls Monday, the fire department was blessed with a slow day. The fire department didn't have to do much in the way of preparation because many of the necessary changes had been made 16 years ago.
"We made a lot of those changes a long time ago when we went to the TwinCom system, and we just kept growing and refining things ever since," Fire Chief Gary Cook said.
The fire department did have to forward some seven-digit emergency numbers that go to outside agencies to the new center. After that, it was just a matter of making sure all of the new software was working as planned.
In Rock Falls, the biggest challenge was getting the new staff in place that will ensure the city's police station is fully functioning at night.
Police Chief Tammy Nelson said two full-timers and four part-timers will provide window coverage at the station, handle some paperwork, and make sure officers have what they need. The dispatchers who no longer are in Rock Falls also did some administrative work.
"We have 24-hour coverage 7 days a week, so everything will be pretty much the same at our station," Nelson said.
The extra staff in Rock Falls will drive up dispatch costs for that city by an estimated $125,000.
Staffing is based on call-volume estimates, so the county will put the new system under a microscope in 6 months. Wilhelmi said the county is ready to add staff quickly if the numbers warrant that move.
The system kicked off with 14 dispatchers, and the county has already tested 13 applicants who could be hired at a moment's notice. The 13 on the waiting list were chosen from a pool of 50 applicants.
The consolidation was mandated by the state with the objective of moving closer to a uniform 911 system throughout Illinois. Senate Bill 96, signed into law July 31, 2015, allows no more than two dispatch units in counties with 250,000 or fewer residents. Whiteside County's deadline to implement the new system was July 1.
The cost breakdown for the new consolidated dispatch system has Sterling paying 40 percent, while Rock Falls and the county each will shoulder 30 percent of the expenses.
The cost estimate for gross operations is about $1.2 million, but that will be adjusted in 6 months, when officials get a more realistic picture of expenses under the new structure.