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Commissioners request more information about dispatch center plan

4 mins read

FARMINGTON – Commissioners tabled action on a contingency plan developed for the Franklin County Regional Communications Center at Tuesday’s meeting, planning to meet later this week to discuss the issue.

Commissioners, meeting via teleconference, on March 31 approved a continuity of operations plan developed by dispatchers. If activated, the plan included having a team of four dispatchers living at the dispatch center full-time for two weeks, then switching out for a new team of dispatchers. Dispatchers said that the plan would protect the center’s limited workforce, which currently includes three trainees, and allow them to continue responding to calls.

Dispatcher Dawn Tolman, who attended the conference call and spoke to different elements of the plan, said that no one was “jumping for joy” to implement the contingency plan.

“We’re just doing this to try and get the citizens served,” Tolman said.

The proposal calls for two dispatchers working a 12-hour shift before switching out for 12 hours. In the case of one or a series of emergencies demanding more help, Tolman said, the other two dispatchers could begin working quickly. Tolman said that one shift would consist of two women while the other would consist of two men.

The center has already implemented a number of changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The building itself is locked down except for essential staff; dispatchers have been doing their own custodial work at the center. As presented at the commissioners’ meeting last week, the contingency plan would be an additional step that would be made if deemed necessary. Franklin County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Hardy said Monday that his office had been meeting regularly with Franklin Memorial Hospital regarding the virus’ impact on the area.

Hardy noted that the center already had a kitchenette and that dispatchers would sleep in the training room. A private camper with a water heater would be moved to the center to provide shower facilities.

Commissioners Terry Brann of Wilton and Charlie Webster of Farmington raised issues with the plan, including that it would involve men and women sharing living facilities – which they cited as a possible liability issue – and the plan’s associated costs.

Webster also pointed out that similar, ‘shelter-in-place’-style practices were not being planned for the Franklin County Detention Center or for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office staff.

Brann questioned whether keeping dispatchers separate from their families for such long periods of time would have a negative impact.

Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong was in favor of the plan as proposed and volunteered use of his own trailer and its shower.

County Clerk Julie Magoon said that using a private camper/trailer could present liability issues for the county and instead suggested renting two trailers: one for men and one for women, which would also address the co-habitation issue. The county needed to meet with the dispatchers’ union regarding financial impact, Magoon said, but estimated that the plan would result in an additional total cost of $5,000 to $7,000 per month.

Commissioners agreed to table the plan until their next meeting, possibly later this week, in order to get information regarding the costs of the plan, specifically the impact on employee pay and what it would cost to rent a couple of trailers.

In other business, the Magoon said that the Franklin County Budget Committee would caucus on April 20 at 5:30 p.m. via teleconference. The first meeting would likely be held in May.

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