ROCKINGHAM — A consolidated 911 center in Richmond County is one step closer to becoming a reality.
County Manager Rick Sago announced Tuesday night that the county was awarded a $6.3 million grant to build the center.
Richmond — one of three counties awarded — received the lion’s share of the $9.9 million available this year from the N.C. 911 Board. Graham and Hyde counties also received grants.
The funding for the grants comes from the 911 surcharge assessed on wireless phones, said Richmond County Director of Emergency Management Donna Wright.
The new center will consolidate the current Richmond County 911 center with the dispatch desks of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and Rockingham and Hamlet police departments.
“I think it’s very important to get all the emergency services communications in one place,” said Hamlet Mayor Bill Bayless, who is also deputy chief of the East Rockingham Volunteer Fire Department. “I believe it’s going to be a benefit to everyone in the county.”
While trying to get the Hamlet City Council on board with the idea in February, Wright said there were two primary reasons for the consolidation.
“It’s going to service all our citizens better,” she said, adding the merger would eliminate the need to transfer calls unnecessarily.
Wright, who started her career as a telecommunicator on the night shift at the Hamlet Police Department, said about seven seconds are lost transferring 911 calls to designated agencies.
She said consolidation would also increase the safety of first responders by allowing better information-sharing with the use of new technology.
In a February memo, Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump said the streamlining “will save taxpayers money and increase efficiency.”
He said the city, county and sheriff’s office currently have separate sets of dispatchers providing emergency communications all within about a quarter-mile from each other.
“Consolidation would merge all of this into one agency to provide services to all participating agencies,” he said.
As part of an interlocal agreement, the county will not charge the city any fees for taking over dispatch duties and efforts will be made to hire displaced dispatchers at the new center.
Included in the agreement is the creation of a law enforcement advisory committee.
The committee would consist of representatives from the Hamlet and Rockingham police departments, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, the 911 center and Wright, and would be responsible for “making recommendations in the the development of dispatch protocols, procedures, polices and systems related to service delivery for law enforcement.”
Wright said that the new center should be operational within the next three years.
“As for location,” she added, “we are looking at our options along with a location at the airport.”
All surrounding counties — Scotland, Anson, Montgomery, Stanly, Hoke and Moore — have fully consolidated dispatch centers. Scotland County’s center went operational in February.
Wright said the Richmond County Board of Commissioners will have to approve the grant once the paperwork is received from the state.
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.