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911 advisory panel recommends upgrades for Office of Emergency Management

Thursday, December 13, 2012 | 10:46 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — An advisory panel recommended moving oversight of the Public Safety Joint Communications and the Office of Emergency Management from the city to the county and building a new facility to house the two agencies.

This recommendation is tied to a ballot proposal coming in April for Joint Communications and Emergency Management to be funded by a general sales tax. 

Joint Communications handles 911 emergency calls for all of Boone County. The Office of Emergency Management handles disaster preparedness in the county.

In September, Presiding County Commissioner Dan Atwill asked the 911 advisory panel to review Joint Communications and Emergency Management and consider moving their oversight to the county or to an elected board.

The panel was established in response to longstanding issues with Public Safety Joint Communications including funding and the agency's need for additional personnel.

At a panel meeting last week, Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey estimated upfront costs of $22.5 million for a new building, equipment upgrade, moving the Joint Communications IT system to the county's IT system and new personnel training. He recommended that 20 new full-time employees be hired for Joint Communications.

The panel suggested building a new structure near the Boone County Sheriff's Department headquarters to house the Office of Emergency Management and Joint Communications.

The panel said the new structure is necessary to ensure the agencies will operate in the event of natural disasters or other emergencies. 

Rusty Antel, a member of the panel and a local attorney, said the board visited the current location for Joint Communications and Emergency Management and found the building inadequate for the purposes of the two agencies. 

The panel also found a need for upgrading or replacing equipment used by the agencies.

"We haven't kept up with the change in technology," Antel said. 

The panel recommended measures be put in place to allow user agencies of Joint Communications — city and county police, fire and emergency services — to make recommendations to the county regarding Joint Communications and the Office of Emergency Management. 

"A lot of work has been done, but there's a lot of work to do to get the ballot ready for April," Carey said.

The panel chair, Bart Wechsler, said the panel will submit a report to the county in early to mid-January summarizing its findings and recommendations on these issues. 

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.


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