Last step: The county and city complete their 911 merger

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Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh are finally completing a long-awaited merger of their 911 emergency call centers.

It’s been a long time in coming.

The county and city have been sharing a building in Point Breeze since 2005, but calls from county residents were handled by one section and those from the city — about 40 percent of the activity — were taken by another. When the consolidation is completed next month, there will be no distinctions when employees handle calls for emergency assistance from all 130 municipalities in the county.

Streamlining the process makes lots of sense, and the last step in the merger so far has been a smooth one. 

That wasn’t always true. 

Having a single center to handle calls for police, firefighters and emergency medical teams in the county is a no-brainer, but the effort to consolidate multiple operations faced stubborn resistance for many years. In 2001, seven regional dispatch centers were operating, and it took until 2005 for the county to combine all except Pittsburgh into one.

Even now, 13 municipalities are holdouts; they handle the dispatching of emergency personnel themselves, although the calls placed by residents to 911 first go to the joint call center, where they are relayed to the outliers.

That “we'll do it ourselves” attitude illustrates the kind of thinking that undergirds some public policies in the region and that has derailed broader attempts at formal mergers between Pittsburgh and the county as well as among suburban boroughs and townships.

There is far more cooperation — in purchasing, for example — than in the past, but true consolidation remains an unreachable goal in a region that holds too tightly to a municipal structure that doesn’t make sense in the 21st century.

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