Pittsburg County, Okla., Commissioners Eye E-911 Call Center

Currently, the E-911 call center operated by the city of McAlester handles all E-911 calls, both in McAlester and throughout Pittsburg County.

by James Beaty, McAlester News-Capital, Okla. / April 8, 2019
AP/Lisa Marie Pane

(TNS) — Pittsburg County commissioners are looking into the possibility of installing an E-911 call center to handle emergency calls in the county.

"If we do it, it will be for everything outside McAlester city limits," Pittsburg County Commission Chairman Kevin Smith said Monday.

Smith, who is the District 2 commissioner, said steps to move forward on establishing a countywide E-911 call center could be listed on the commissioners' meeting agenda as an action item as soon as next week.

Commissioners are contemplating taking the action even as the current E-911 call center operated by the city of McAlester has moved from City Hall to the facility that was previously known as the Carl Albert Federal Building. Currently, the E-911 call center operated by the city of McAlester handles all E-911 calls, both in McAlester and throughout Pittsburg County.

If the commissioners carry through, the city's E-911 call center could be left handling McAlester calls only. County commissioners said 60 percent of the county's population lives outside McAlester.

Smith said commissioners have thought about taking the action for some time, but he wanted to obtain more information regarding equipment costs before moving forward on the matter.

"I didn't have a clue what that equipment cost," Smith said. Now, with a better idea of what that would involve, he's ready to take the next step.

The other county commissioners are also ready to consider the idea.

"We've got to sit back and see if it's something we want to do," District 1 Commissioner Charlie Rogers said Monday. He said he would also like to visit with the city of McAlester in regards to the city's plans.

District 3 Commissioner Ross Selman agrees with the concept of establishing a separate E-911 call center for Pittsburg County.

"It's not like we're in competition with the city," Selman said recently when asked about the concept. "We could handle our fire departments and the towns."

If the county does establish an E-911 call center, plans are to place it inside the Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management building, which Selman contends would be a safer location.

"We have an F-5 building," Selman said, referring to the building which designers said was constructed to withstand an F-5 tornado.

If the county does move forward, the plan includes accessing the county's share of revenues that come in from E-911 fees.

Selman said Monday that he thinks the county could benefit from having its own E-911 call center.

"It will be a better deal for our county as a whole," Selmam said. "The equipment we're thinking about getting is top notch."

Smith said he believes the project is worth pursuing on the county's behalf, "as long as we aren't doing anything that would increase tax dollars on the public."

So, how would commissioners pay for the equipment and other start-up costs that would be connected with setting up a new E-911 call center for all of Pittsburg County, excluding McAlester?

Smith said there are options available.

"A lot of equipment is accessible on state-bid contracts, with financing included," he said.

Under one scenario, some of the money collected through the E-911 fees already in place could be accessed by the county to make the payments for the needed E-911 equipment.

Estimates are that the county's share of E-911 revenues would bring in approximately from $20,000 to $26,000 per month. With some dispatchers already on-board at the Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office, commissioners said new hires for a new county-wide call center would be minimal.

"We're hoping with the money coming in, it would pay for itself," Rogers said.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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