Seaford 911 Center to close Oct. 30

SEAFORD — The timetable is now certain.
Four-plus decades of emergency dispatch service in the greater Seaford area in Western Sussex county will end the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 30, with the last call to the Seaford 911 Center – the first call center in Delaware.

Amid financial and sustainability concerns, city council voted 3-1 Tuesday night to close the Seaford 911 Center, transition call-taking dispatch for fire, emergency medical service and police calls to Sussex County and Delaware State Police at the Emergency Operations Center in Georgetown, and implement a non-dispatch, customer-based call center at the Seaford Police Department.

“There is plusses and minuses to everything, but I think in the long run for Seaford’s budget and for the safety of this community I think it is the right decision,” said Seaford Mayor David Genshaw.

“This is not the outcome that we wanted,” said Anita Bell, Seaford 911 Center dispatch administrator. “We would have liked to have seen the 911 Center stay open. It’s been our lives. We love our citizens, and this is where we wanted to be.”
An estimated $300,000 will be saved with the center’s closure, according to Seaford City Manager Charles Anderson.

City officials say the public will see no reduction in the timeliness or quality of service delivered in the minutes after a 911 call is made. So, the decision is expected to have little to no effect for the public or emergency responders.
“The bottom line is 911 service will remain for the residents of Seaford. This will be a seamless transition,” Mayor Genshaw said. “After the transition, if you call 911 in the City of Seaford, or anywhere in the Seaford fire district, rather than the call coming into the city’s dispatch center, it will instead route in an instant to Sussex County EOC.”

“From a user standpoint, callers won’t notice a bit of difference. This just makes sense to merge our operations with the joint county-state facility so the city can focus on other needs, while allowing that critical 911 function to fold into an operation that fields more than 130,000 calls for service each year,” Mayor Genshaw said. “This just makes sense from a business and logistical standpoint, and we have every confidence it will serve our taxpayers and citizens well.”

Council members Orlando Holland, H. William Mulvaney and Matt McCoy voted for the 911 Center closure/call center option suggested by Seaford Police Chief Marshall Craft to the 911 Services Evaluation Committee.
That committee was appointed by Mayor Genshaw following an Aug. 27 council meeting that drew a huge turnout, most in support of keeping the 911 Center open.

Councilman James King opposed that option, campaigning in hopes the 911 Center would remain.
Councilman Dan Henderson, chair of the committee and the city’s police commissioner, did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Sensitive to concerns voiced by some residents in recent weeks, city council voted to retain some functions within the city, specifically administrative and non-emergency calls for service. The center, which is located at the Seaford Police Department, will continue to handle administrative calls, including city utility after-hours requests, and assist with officer support and walk-in concerns.
Officials for both the county and state say they are ready to support Seaford following the city’s decision.

“As someone who has been a member and taken on roles as president, chief, and ambulance captain in the Seaford Fire Department for almost 50 years, and as someone who has also served in both the city and county governments, I understand the complexities and challenges Seaford leaders are faced with,” Sussex County Council President Michael H. Vincent said. “Ultimately, as public servants – whether that’s in emergency services or as elected officials – we have to do what we believe is in the best interest of the people we serve.”

According to Sussex EOC Director Joe Thomas, closure of Seaford’s 911 Center will have little impact on the EOC fire and EMS calls. Sussex EOC shares the dispatch facility on Rudder Lane at the Delaware Coastal Airport with Delaware State Police.

“For us, it’s really not a significant impact,” said Mr. Thomas. “The reason I say that is that last year Seaford fire and EMS incidents, they had a little over 4,300 fire and EMS calls in Seaford last year and we had some sort of part in over 50 percent of those incidents. When I say that I mean either we dispatched a paramedic unit into Seaford, or we dispatched another mutual aid fire department to assist them.”
“So, with those numbers we’re not talking about something that I’ve got to add additional staffing to. We feel very confident that we can maintain services with what we have,” Mr. Thomas said.

Seaford 911 Center last year handled approximately 18,000 police calls. With the center closure, those calls will go to the state police dispatch in the EOC facility.
“As far the police side, they’ll have more a workload increase because obviously the law enforcement calls are a little bit higher than the fire and EMS calls,” said Mr. Thomas.
“The Delaware State Police Regional Communications Center in Sussex County stands ready to receive 9-1-1 calls for the City of Seaford,” said Sgt. Richard Bratz, spokesperson for the Delaware State Police.

“This transition to the State Police Emergency Operations Center will be seamless with no delay in service and callers will receive the same level of service currently being provided to all of the communities throughout the state.”
Seaford, which has grappled with budget challenges in recent years, had $657,000 in expenses earmarked for its 911 center for its current fiscal year, which runs through June 30, 2020. On the revenue side, the city receives about $38,000 annually from a fee imposed on telephones and cell phones to subsidize 9-1-1 calls, Mr. Anderson said.
With the call center, civilian employees – about half of the 911 Center staff – would perform a variety of duties, but no dispatching.

Mr. King asked if the committee thoroughly reviewed potential monetary cuts in other areas, noting the city-owned Hoopers Landing Golf Course and pool.
“Neither of those, even those combined would make up that funding shortfall,” said Mr. Anderson.
The switch to a call center would reduce budgetary expenditures through staff reduction. Mr. Anderson said there would be one employee shift, as opposed to two dispatchers as mandated by law for a 911 center. Call center staff would not require the training, education and certification required for dispatcher, Mr. Anderson said.

At full strength, Seaford 911 Center staffing had nine dispatchers and several other civilian employees who maintain the Nationally Accredited 911 Communications Center on a 24-hour basis.
Since discussion surfaced about possible closure of the center, some dispatchers left in pursuit of other employment.

“I don’t know what I am doing. I don’t have anything locked in. I might stay but then again I might not,” said Ms. Bell, who has been at the Seaford 911 Center for 14 years. “There is a lot of things that have to be worked through. This is new to us. We’ve never just been basically the person sitting at a desk answering a window.
“But I would imagine any calls that come in for a walk-in we’re going to relay over to SusCom so they can turn around and relay them to our police department.”

“What happens when we flip our switch, all of the numbers that were listed underneath us will now go to Georgetown. It will be a challenge,” Ms. Bell said.

“Those details will be worked out, how that will work,” said Mayor Genshaw.
“Sussex County has a long and successful track record of providing 911 services and emergency dispatching, stretching all the way back to the 1960s,” said Mr. Thomas. “We know the day-to-day demands, we know the community, so this is a natural fit. By taking on Seaford Center’s operations, this will help the City meet its changing needs, and it will also give the County an opportunity to grow our staff and technology to meet ever-increasing call volumes.”

Mayor Genshaw said city council and the evaluation committee members all toured the Seaford and Georgetown facilities.
“It (EOC) is a state-of-the-art facility. Seaford could never afford to get this. All the stuff they do is top shelf,” said Mayor Genshaw. “It is the wise thing to do, it really is.”

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