"Calling 911" - Should West Virginia Merge its Emergency Call Ce - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

"Calling 911" - Should West Virginia Merge its Emergency Call Centers?

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WV could consolidate 53 "911 Centers" to just 6. WV could consolidate 53 "911 Centers" to just 6.
New cell phone apps might better locate emergencies New cell phone apps might better locate emergencies
State Legislature will study 911 consolidation, but no vote until 2018 State Legislature will study 911 consolidation, but no vote until 2018

West Virginia is having a 911 money emergency. The state and many counties are in financial trouble, so a bill before the legislature would merge the 911 call centers in the Mountain State from 53 to just 6.

"Savings to the state, or the counties, or to the citizens of West Virginia if we can reduce the 911 fee," said Del. Ron Walters, (R) Kanawha.

Right now people pay 911 fees through their cell and landline phone bills. West Virginia has among the highest rates in the nation. But critics of 911 consolidation are already circling the wagons. Even if many counties merged their call centers you'd still have to have enough staffing.

"85 percent of it is employee costs. And you're still going to need an appropriate number of people to answer the phones at peak call periods. It's that simple," said Kent Carper, President of the Kanawha County Commission.

Proponents say new cell phone technology will make consolidated 911 service more efficient.

"We're now available to have apps, that directly go to 911 and gives your GPS location immediately," said Delegate Walters.

But opponents worry about technological failures. The Mountain State has a reputation for poor cell phone and broadband service. Delegate Rodney Miller, is a former Boone County Sheriff.

"Given the terrain of this state, it's always an issue. If it's a cell phone-based system, we have under-served ares in this state," said Del. Rodney Miller, (D) Boone.

And that has 911 center directors worried about upgrades.

"I know the engineering alone on something like that would be in the millions of dollars. It's not just as easy as flipping a switch and making a call go here and there," said Greg Lay, Director, Boone County 911.

911 Call Centers are primarily a county run-function, but consolidation supporters in the Legislature say that efficiencies of having to running fewer centers make sense.

"You'd need fewer people, and you wouldn't have to have benefits and pensions and all that," said Del. Ron Walters, (R) Kanawha.

"Before the state -  and in this case the Legislature - gives us advice on the local level, they ought to get their own house in order," said Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper.

Nationwide many other states are consolidating their 911 call centers and relying on new technology:

"There will not be a bill this year on a vote to consolidate 911 centers across West Virginia. Instead it has been referred to a study committee for one year. So it is possible will come back in 2018 to greatly reduce the number of 911 call centers in the Mountain State," said Mark Curtis, 13 News Chief Political Reporter.

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