Joint Communications issues dominate premeeting of City Council

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 6:16 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 12, 2009

COLUMBIA — Staffing and organizational issues at Public Safety Joint Communications dominated the Columbia City Council's precouncil meeting, as did concerns about the Office of Emergency Management and the Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival.

Zim Schwartze, interim director at Joint Communications, told the council that everyone at the agency is stretched pretty thin.

"We're very efficient, but we're sinking," Schwartze said.

In 2008, Joint Communications received nearly 70,000 incoming calls to 911, according to information Schwartze presented.

"Dispatchers play a very, very key role in public safety," Schwartze said.

Schwartze said the center does not have enough dispatchers for the size of the area it serves and more dispatchers are needed.

In addition to discussing Joint Communications, Schwartze filled in the council members on the state of the Office of Emergency Management. According to Schwartze, to do it right the office would need a full-time director.

As part of her presentation, Schwartze suggested a new organizational structure for Joint Communications as well as the Office of Emergency Management.

As part of the new structure, there would a Public Safety Joint Communications/Emergency Management director. Under that director, there would be various other positions broken up into more specific duties and managing more specific areas than under the current system.

Schwartze laid out plans for the immediate future, the next 18 months and the next 36 months.

For the immediate future, Schwartze recommended hiring a systems support analyst at an estimated $62,000. She also recommended realigning part-time employees to the administrative side of the operation to help with various jobs.

For 18 months in the future, Schwartze recommended hiring additional communication operators and starting to prepare the user agencies in the area for a fee increase.

As for 36 months into the future, Schwartze said she would like to concentrate on completing a new mobile back-up Operations Center and adding additional communications operators.

At the end of the precouncil meeting, the council discussed the Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival. The map for the festival was finalized Monday afternoon, which meant the council wasn't able to have a public hearing at its meeting Monday night as was originally hoped.

Columbia Police Chief Kenneth Burton also discussed various ways of handling alcohol at the festival. He said it would be easier to manage alcohol if alcohol sales were managed well. Burton said police are going to monitor the vendors to ensure they follow the rules as far as alcohol sales are concerned.

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