Small towns plug into cloud shared services

For some small towns, public safety means IT consolidation

Given the demand on local government agencies to cut costs, alternative forms of IT services and infrastructure sharing are starting to emerge, according to local government managers. 

In some cases, the agencies themselves absorb one another to share resources. In other cases, the departments remain intact, but share common systems. This was the case in New Jersey, where Monmouth County shares its computer-aided dispatch and other emergency systems with dozens of municipalities, police departments and fire departments across the county that could simply not afford new technologies or personnel. 

Both scenarios stem from the same problem: local governments can’t afford to maintain redundant systems amid continuing budget constraints.

What’s more, the drive to consolidate cuts across local governments of all sizes. In Vermont, for example, the towns of Dorset (population 2,031) and Manchester (population 4,391) are seeking a contractor to conduct a public safety and emergency services consolidation study.

The towns released a request for proposals earlier this year and expect to pick a contractor this summer to complete the study by late November. The RFP notes that Manchester seeks, “long-term sustainability and cost containment typically associated with consolidation and regionalization of public safety services.”

Manchester already aims to make its emergency operations center (EOC) a shared resource. The EOC, which was built about two years ago, resides in the town’s Public Safety Facility and includes a communications room.

The town used the EOC during Superstorm Sandy, and, more recently, the Vermont state police used the center during an Amber Alert situation. John O’Keefe, Manchester’s town manager, described the communications room as a “hot EOC,” noting that the center requires very little set up to activate.

“We have been working hard to develop the EOC into a regional – at least the northern part of our county – asset,” O’Keefe said.

In addition to the EOC, Manchester operates a dispatch center, which provides two-way radio communication with area police departments and rescue squads. The dispatch center is also located in the Public Safety Facility.  O’Keefe said one objective expressed in the RFP is to have town and county governments collaborate and readily share information.

“We plan to heavily use IT to achieve this goal,” he said.

The town already uses its EOC to push out information to the field, O’Keefe pointed out. All of Manchester’s police cruisers are equipped with mobile data terminals, and its three busiest fire trucks have iPads to receive tactical data.

South Sound 911

At the other end of the country, South Sound 911 is consolidating public safety systems that will serve a population base of 800,000 people in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash., metro area. South Sound 911, an interlocal agency, spans Pierce County, the City of Tacoma, the City of Lakewood, the City of Fife and West Pierce Fire & Rescue.

Andrew Neiditz, executive director of South Sound 911, said the agency’s goal is to consolidate five 911 centers into a unified operation over the next two and a half years. The agency will eventually provide 911 and dispatch services for 16 police and 22 fire departments.

The efficiency that comes with consolidation saves money and can potentially save lives. Neiditz said the benefits of consolidation include public safety interoperability for police, fire and emergency medical services and “faster and more effective response.”

The Seattle metro area expects to achieve cost savings through improved economies of scale, according to Neiditz,  and also as a result of lower facility overhead, administration costs and software licensing fees.

South Sound 911 earlier this year tapped Intergraph for public safety systems that will replace multiple disparate systems, according to an Intergraph statement. The new systems include Intergraph’s I/CAD system and other products such as Mobile Responder and Mobile for Public Safety.

Better backup

Another benefit of consolidation: improved redundancy. The lack of adequate backup systems among smaller towns and public safety agencies became more evident after  Superstorm Sandy, according Monmouth County sheriff Shaun Golden. He said towns are looking for ways to store data – such as tax roll and payroll information - so it can be easily retrieved in the event of another disaster.

The county’s Public Safety Center, offers redundancy in its storage service. The center continually replicates files between the center in Freehold, N.J. and a backup facility, the Shore Area Communications Center, in Neptune, N.J.  Monmouth uses EMC’s Avamar software/hardware solution for its backup and recovery service.

Monmouth County is promoting this shared service to local governments and also plans to pursue small businesses clients. Golden said small companies that don’t want to use cloud-based services can take advantage of the center’s security and redundancy. 

Reader Comments

Tue, Jul 8, 2014 Tom J

This is new many small towns including those in different counties have been sharing 911 centers for over 20 years. That's before the internet was a big thing.

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