Three and a half weeks from now, the Union County Board of Commissioners is set to make a decision that could dramatically change how emergency calls in the county are handled. A decision that could close the county's 911 center. The county says it's a matter of money. But those who work in Union County 911 say it's about safety....and jobs.
A total of 9 people work in Union County 911. Dispatcher Jamie Campbell is one of them. "We are open 24-7-365. We never close. The dispatchers here work weekends, holidays...we never take a day off."
But Campbell may soon be out of a job if the Union County Board of Commissioners goes ahead with something it's thinking about. Doyle Karpen chairs the Union County board. "We wouldn't do anything that would jeopardize the safety of the people of the county."
What Union County may do is shut down it's 911 center and pay another county to take those emergency calls...all in the name of cutting the county budget. Bad idea says Jody Oberg, the manager of Union County's 911 center. "Your response times are going to increase. Just being that far away they are going to increase." Oberg says response times will increase because, while rural areas do now have rural addresses, most people who call Union County 911 give their location via landmarks...how close they are to a road...or a lake..or a church. Dispatcher Jamie Campbell deals with it every day. "Other counties aren't going to know those local landmarks....we do. We live here."
Union County Commission Chair Doyle Karpen admits, there would be a learning curve for new dispatchers in a different county, but says technology means it can be done effectively. "We have to use the facts and not feelings to make our determinations."
There will be a public meeting next Tuesday in Elk Point to discuss this idea. The county board is set to make a decision on what to do about 911 on September 19th.
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