UPDATE THU OCT 06 2011 7:23 AM: Northwest Central Dispatch System management and the union Metropolitan Alliance of Police (MAP Chapter 540) reached a tentative agreement about 1:30 a.m. Thursday.
Mediation with an arbitrator lasted about 12 hours starting at 2 p.m. If not for the agreement, dispatchers and telecommunication operators could have gone on strike as early as 5:00 p.m. Thursday.
The Metropolitan Alliance of Police, which represents 911 telecommunications operators and emergency service dispatchers for police and fire department of Northwest Central Dispatch System (NWCDS), issued a strike notice Wednesday.
Unions are required to give employers a five-day notice, so both sides have until October 6, 2011 to negotiate before a possible walkout. The notice does not mean a strike is certain, but it communicates a union’s intent to potentially walk out.
The 911 call center located in Arlington Heights has an emergency backup plan to prevent interruption of services if there is a walkout. A backup plan draws on several resources to keep the call center staffed around the clock, seven days a week, according to a NWCDS press release.
“Our message to the half a million residents we serve is simple. When our residents dial 9-1-1 they do so with the expectation that they will receive the help and attention they deserve. That will continue, uninterrupted regardless of any action taken by the union that represents 70 of our dispatchers. Strike or no strike, our number one priority is delivering top quality service to the nearly half a million Northwest suburban residents we serve.”
–Ken Fritz, NWCDS Board of Directors Chairman and Schaumburg Village Manager
The issue of the contract negotiations is apparently about medical benefits and days off — points of contention since the staff unionized three years ago. the authorized staffing levels for NWCDS are 71 telecommunicators, two alarm operators, seven operations managers, and 12 administration staff.
Northwest Central Dispatch System handles communications for police and fire departments from Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, and Streamwood. The center also handles police communications for Prospect Heights police department. Prospect Heights Fire Protection District communications area mainly served by RED Center, located in Northbrook.
The coverage area includes 486,182 citizens that reside in the communities listed above. NWCDS answers about 274,000 emergency telephone call per year and dispatches about 222,000 police calls and 52,000 fire/EMS calls. The 911 center also serves as radio dispatch for MABAS Division I fire departments, dispatching pre-planned assignments and providing emergency radio communications for disasters and major incidents which require mutual aid for fire services from Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Elk Grove Township, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Itasca, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Palatine Rural, Rolling Meadows, Rosemont, Schaumburg, Streamwood, Wheeling, and Wood Dale.
According to Ken Fritz, NWCDS Board of Directors Chairman, “It is also our goal to continue negotiations with the union toward an agreement that is fair to our employees and to taxpayers … First and foremost, we are seeking a contract with our hard working employees that enables the Northwest Central Dispatch System to deliver the best possible service to residents at the most reasonable cost.”
While NWCDS uses computer-aided dispatch, the experience of longstanding 911 staff is important for situational awareness of the wide spectrum of urgency regarding 911 calls (from suspecting what might be a prank to recognizing a dire emergency), for situational awareness of fire districts and police beats, for quick decisions when determining jurisdiction, for anticipating what information or additional responses might be needed by a fire or police official, for plain old understanding of the geographic conditions and characteristics of the coverage area, for using a calm and confident approach to acquire all necessary information about an emergency incident, and more.
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