Dispatched: Frustration, confusion prevail after decision to shut down dispatch center
April 21, 2009
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Find Matrix Consulting Group’s full report on the Tahoe City dispatch center online at http://www.sierrasun.com/dispatch.
TAHOE CITY ” Tahoe City’s representative on the Placer County Board of Supervisors says she was not voting to shut down the dispatch center on March 24. Instead, Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said the board, which voted unanimously, was simply accepting a consultant’s report recommending the center closes.
The report, completed by Matrix Consulting Group, calls for the county’s Auburn dispatch center to take over all Tahoe City dispatch center calls, a move that prompted a number of concerns from Tahoe City residents about the decrease in safety and local jobs.
Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said she would not have voted for the measure had she known her vote also meant accepting the closure.
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“I have concerns about what it was we voted on,” Montgomery said. “I voted to accept the report … my understanding was that any implementation of the plan would first come before the board. I would not have voted for this if I did not have those reassurances.”
Board Chair F.C. Rockholm said the vote was to accept the report and not to close down the dispatch center, but the final call didn’t rest in the board’s hands, rather with the sheriff’s department.
Capt. Jeff Granum of the county’s Tahoe City substation said the closure plan is moving forward and will be implemented over the course of the year. Auburn handles about one-third of the Tahoe calls now from midnight to 8 a.m.
For Montgomery’s part, she said she fully expects the discussion to come back before the board.
“I assume there was a lack of communication somewhere between the lake and Auburn,” Montgomery said.
Another option is to staff the center by keeping one dispatcher at a time on duty 24/7, according to the report. Montgomery said she hopes the Sheriff’s Department will consider both options.
Rockholm said he expects the Sheriff’s Department to report to the community at the board’s July Tahoe meeting on which option they prefer, and how it will affect community safety.
Dispatchers speak out
A group of Tahoe City dispatchers ” four out of the six who work at the station ” disagreed with the consulting group’s recommendations.
“When they looked at our calls they said we didn’t have enough to justify keeping us open,” said one dispatcher, who asked to remain anonymous in order to avoid retribution from a future employer. “They just looked at our average of calls over the whole year, and didn’t take into account the influx of people we see in the winter, the influx we see in the summer.”
Another dispatcher, who also asked for anonymity, said Matrix did not take into account time-consuming items like bear calls, calls from other agencies, radios from deputies to issue “be on the lookout” for criminal calls and running criminal histories.
When word came dispatch would close, a third dispatcher said she was shocked the county would consider the measure, since all of the dispatchers work and live in Tahoe.
“It was like a sledgehammer,” she said.
Jobs aren’t the issue here, said one of the dispatchers. Granum said no jobs would be eliminated as part of the move and dispatchers would instead be offered other jobs within the county in the Lake Tahoe area.
The issue, the dispatcher said, was safety.
“This not only affects the Tahoe dispatch center, it impacts the whole county,” she said. “If there is a major event going on up here, how are the Auburn dispatchers going to handle it?”
There have been at least two times, a dispatcher said, when Auburn’s dispatchers asked to turn the midnight to 8 a.m. Tahoe calls back over to the Tahoe City center because they “couldn’t handle the call volume.”
“We don’t mean any offense to the Auburn dispatchers, a lot of them are professionals and very good at what they do,” said a dispatcher. “But they are already overworked.”
Matrix’s study confirms the current time pressures, adding that rarely will the station be fully staffed due to the high turnover rate of dispatchers and the long training program for new employees.
Another point of contention the dispatchers had with the safety aspect of the move is with the Auburn-based dispatcher’s familiarity with the area.
They also pointed to the fact Tahoma and Kings’ Beach ” both of which lie in their area coverage, which extends north to the Mousehole over State Highway 89 and the Truckee Tahoe Airport, east to the Nevada Stateline and south to the El Dorado County Line ” each have Deer streets.
A spokesperson for Matrix was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
Another reason for shutting down the station cited in the Matrix report is the fact that the North Tahoe Fire Protection District and Squaw Valley Fire Protection District are each ending their contract with the Tahoe City dispatch center to join Cal Fire’s Grass Valley dispatch center. Capt. Granum cited is as one of the “major reasons” the center would close.
According to the report, fire and emergency medical calls accounted for about 20 percent of the center’s volume in the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the most recent year numbers were available. Percentages from the dispatchers were roughly similar for the calendar year 2008.
One of the dispatchers said since the center is staffed at half capacity after attrition and retirements reduced the staff from 12 to six ” a claim verified in the Matrix report ” the drop in call volume wouldn’t reduce the need for dispatchers.