Employees work at the Allegheny County 911 center.
By Kaitlynn Riely / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Next month, a person can call 911 from the township of Fawn, or the neighborhood of Friendship, and they won't notice a difference.
“It will be seamless, to the caller to 911,” said Alvin Henderson, chief of emergency services for Allegheny County.
But by mid-September, there will be a change in the way the city and the county handle emergency calls, and on Wednesday Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto celebrated the final step in what both said had been a long march toward full consolidation.
The 911 services for the city and the county already had been located at the same place, a center in Point Breeze. But currently, calls from the city of Pittsburgh — which account for 40 percent of calls to 911 — were handled by one call-taking pod, and calls from the rest of the county were handled by another pod.
Once the merger is complete, when an emergency call comes in, it will simply be taken by the next call-taker, Chief Henderson said.
The “final step” toward a full merger will begin next week, the officials said. The 214 employees who make up the 911 staff, including 12 part-time employees who were promoted to full time this spring, will spend the next few weeks training on the technology to handle calls countywide. The training should be complete by mid-September.
“It creates greater efficiency,” Mr. Peduto said of the full consolidation.
“The county has really taken the idea of regionalization in shared services and emergency services and run with it,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.
Rick Grejda, spokesman for the Service Employees International Union Local 668, which represents more than 200 full-time employees and a few dozen part-time employees at the county dispatch center, said he is sure his union will have questions regarding the proposed changes.
He said he believes the changes are driven by a lack of adequate funding from the state.
Currently, Allegheny County funds its 911 system through surcharges on phone service, such as $1 for land lines and $1 for cell phones. The cell phone revenue goes to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Association, rather than straight to the county, and then the county must apply for funds.
Mr. Fitzgerald wants a new formula to acknowledge that as technology changes, there will be new ways that county residents contact 911. Indeed, the county already has made an adjustment, announcing in May that the center would take text messages from cell phones.
The county has estimated it will pay $6.4 million from the general fund to support the 911 center this year.
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