Operators urge delay in shift of 911 system to Toledo

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

About a dozen 911 operators being laid off say the decentralization of their system could ring in the new year with chaos, danger, and disaster.

But Toledo police say the switch should go off without a hitch.

The war of words, of which the latest round took place at last night’s meeting of council’s public safety committee, is over the planned Jan. 2 transfer of the area’s 911 system from Lucas County to city control.

On that date, calls previously answered by a countywide system will be answered by staff in each of the county’s municipalities.

The project’s aim is reducing the response time for emergencies. Lucas County’s other cities instituted their local systems earlier this year without incident.

But Toledo’s transfer, first planned in 1995 and approved by voters in November, 1996, has been fraught with delays.

For example, by month’s end, 911 system operators were supposed to have a permanent home, with phone lines and computer systems installed and operational. But a series of delays have meant that the operators will be crunched into the Alarm Building at 711 Adams St.

Their work stations will only be delivered next week, with a round of testing to follow. Officials say it could be two years before a permanent home can be found for the operators.

Veteran 911 workers said that rush could leave an already frazzled system paralyzed and asked council to consider postponing the switch date.

“It’s not going to serve anyone to meet an artificial deadline if we’re not ready,” operator Myra Cava naugh said. “We’re not asking you to stop this [transfer] permanently. Just stop it until it’s ready.”

But Chief Gerald Galvin said that only a “natural disaster” could stop the Alarm Building arrangement from being operational by year’s end.

“My career and reputation are on the line when I say we will be able to handle this,” he said.

As a part of the transfer, all county operators and supervisors were laid off.

Most were hired to staff the city’s 911 operation, or hired by the Lucas County sheriff’s department to staff its operation, which will cover the un incorporated areas.

Yesterday, Sheriff James Telb announced that his office has hired two more operators, reducing the number of employees still without work to three.

At the request of committee head Jeanine Perry, Chief Galvin said he will update council on the switch’s progress before its next meeting Dec. 22.

Council member Edna Brown had several contentious exchanges with the operators and their attorney, Peter Wagner, over what she considered fear-mongering tactics.

She said Mr. Wagner stressed that the 911 system would not have a significant backup system after the change, when, according to Chief Galvin, the current system does not have one either.

“If you think we need a backup system, just say so,” she said. “Don’t try to scare me.”