View All Posts

Aug 04

A Message from the County Executive: Next Generation Emergency Communications

Posted on August 4, 2023 at 4:27 PM by William Babb

The St. Charles County Department of Emergency Communications, which operates and oversees the county’s 911 dispatch center, works diligently to make certain we meet or exceed the 911 call handling standards set by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). The department has been awarded prestigious Public Safety Communications Accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Seconds make a difference in crucial, life or death situations.

In 2022, 127,265 calls to 911 were answered countywide; 69,681 of those 911 calls were either answered by or transferred to the Department of Emergency Communications. The department provides dispatching services for all fire and EMS agencies within St. Charles County, the St. Charles County Police Department, and the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department, and serves the community as one of six dispatching centers and 911 answering points located in the county.

NENA standards say those calls “SHALL” be answered within 15 seconds, 90 percent of the time, and “SHOULD” be answered within 20 seconds 95 percent of the time. Countywide in 2022, all 911 calls were answered within 10 seconds 98.9 percent of the time, with an average answer time of 3.5 seconds. Within the Department of Emergency Communications, 911 calls were answered within 10 seconds 99.26% of the time, with an average answer time of 3.0 seconds. That is our norm.

And it doesn’t just happen. It takes exceptional staff and funds. As you may know, staffing has been difficult since 2020, and while it has improved, we are still looking for dispatchers. We asked for $7 million from the 2024 state budget to cover the added cost to upgrade our countywide 911 phone system and 911 call routing and delivery system but, unfortunately, the Governor vetoed our funding request. Those funds will now need to be identified locally to support these efforts.

The County does have a 911 tax, which was approved by voters in August 1984. That fund is imposed on landline phones only, and as the use of landlines has decreased, so has the funding. It is estimated that the County will collect $240,000 in 2023 from this tax. In 2003, we collected $571,032 from landlines, and the number has steadily decreased through the years.

The state imposes a tax on prepaid wireless cell phones and the County’s share of that is estimated to be $100,000 this year. Additionally, the County receives money from each of the municipalities that use the county 911 system. Currently, system expenses are about $820,000 a year, of which approximately $560,000 comes from the St. Charles County Capital Fund and other County funds.

Upgrading our current system to a true Next Generation 911 system would cost approximately $11.8 million over the next seven years, which includes hardware and software, and call routing and delivery. The County’s share is just under $890,000 per year. It’s a lot of money, but your County Government is committed to finding the funding. Your safety is a top priority.