EDITORIAL: Potential 911 deal requires scrutiny

York Dispatch Editorial Board
An employee talks with a co-worker at the York County 911 Center Monday, July 31, 2017. County spokesman Mark Walters and lead training supervisor Roxie Tate talked with the media Monday, Feb. 26 regarding recent problems with the center's paging system. Bill Kalina photo

That operations at York County’s 911 center have long been mired in controversy is hardly news.

The facility has wrestled with staffing and retention issues for years and, despite much-lauded technological upgrades, has not always communicated effectively with police, fire and emergency medical personnel.

The issue has reached the point where York County Commissioners this week are expected to launch a search that could result in outsourcing management at the center.

The move comes at the recommendation of IXP Corp., a New Jersey firm that has been conducting a widespread audit of the 911 center.

The firm last week released its findings, which, in many cases, echoed longstanding complaints from current and former 911 staffers: poor management and training, chronic understaffing and an overall toxic culture.

More:York County eyes outsourcing management of 911 Center; meeting set for Wednesday

More:York County eyes outsourcing management of 911 Center; meeting set for Wednesday

What’s most needed, IXP President Larry Consalvos told county officials and the public while outlining the $116,000 audit last week, is an outside firm with expertise in managing 911 centers.

And he has just the company in mind: IXP Corp.

Does the 911 center require the complete overhaul in management and structure IXP recommends? It’s hard to argue otherwise, given persistent personnel problems at the center and Director Jacqueline Brininger’s seeming inability to resolve them.

It has been pointed out before but bears repeating: staffing shortages at the 911 center are not just an employment issue, they’re a public safety issue.

Is IXP the company to bring about badly needed improvements? Perhaps, but county commissioners need to investigate thoroughly before pulling the trigger.

The firm certainly has an inside understanding of the center’s challenges, strengths and weaknesses. It also has a track record of analyzing, overhauling and privatizing 911 centers — it has acquired a half dozen from Michigan to Georgia and is seeking to add to its portfolio.

That gives commissioners some homework to do. How have operations changed under IXP-managed 911 centers? How have employees been treated? How have costs been affected?

Of course, the county has not yet even committed to accepting bids from outside firms. And in fact, some 911 center staffers believe the answers lie within.

“I feel that the current employees that are in those positions are more than qualified to effect the changes presented in the audit,” Lisa Witmer, a terminal agency coordinator in the 911 center, told those in attendance at last week’s audit unveiling.

That will give commissioners something else to consider when they consider a measure to outsource 911 operations.

So, there are many steps to go in this process. County commissioners must take them deliberately and transparently — particularly given the optics of IXP’s offer to run the center bundled with the presentation of its audit findings.

If an outside operator is to be solicited, all sides must be assured that the process is conducted professionally and equitably.

The county must go out of its way, should IXP’s offer eventually be accepted, to reassure the public that it is the most qualified organization to oversee operations at the 911 center and not simply the most convenient.