VOL. 118 | NO. 51 | Friday, March 26, 2004
What could be considered the main intersection of Memphis riverfront is
rapidly becoming the subject of lively discussion and
City, County 911 Dispatchers to Share Space
The Daily News
Beginning July 1, phone bills for all Shelby County
residents and businesses will include a 911 service fee increase to help fund a
new emergency communications facility slated for completion in 2008.
Coming together. Officials involved with the plan
that will place about 230 city and county 911 dispatch employees under one roof
said the four-year building process is actually shorter than the time it took
to bring the project to fruition.
Its been three and a half years working on this project,
but many attempts have been made over the past 25 years to build a new public
safety communications center, said Raymond Chiozza, director of the Shelby
County E911 District.
Though the design of the new structure is not yet complete,
all the 911 district lacks is final approval from the Shelby County Commission
for use of about 15 acres in Shelby Farms for the 94,000-square-foot building.
The project has faced political and funding hurdles.
As a past 911 board member, I am thrilled to see this will
be a reality, said Shelby County Commission member Deidre Malone. Its
crucial that we have all these departments in the same building.
Cooperation difficult. Currently, the Memphis Police
Departments emergency call center is located Downtown in the Criminal Justice
Center at 201 Poplar Ave. and the citys fire department call center is in
Midtown. The county fire and Sheriffs Office call centers are located near
Emergency calls are electronically routed to the appropriate
center according to the location of the caller. Cell phone emergency calls are
automatically routed by wireless carriers.
MPD special projects officer Maj. Mark Collins said
currently, city police radio frequencies differ from those of the county
Sheriffs Office, making cooperation between the two entities difficult and
potentially compromising public safety.
That difference can cause time constraint problems if an
emergency call placed to one agency needs to be transferred to another one,
Collins said. But in the same headquarters, instead of having to get
additional resources from other agencies, it will be easy to just walk across
the hall to the supervisor for any of the departments. Theyll be able to
deploy resources immediately.
The long-term goal is for anyone in the county to be able
to readily switch a frequency and talk to one another.
More space. The proposed building also will create a
better work environment for the four divisions and increase office space,
Collins said, adding that the citys current police call center was established
in 1982 when the department managed four precincts. Today, it runs eight
In 2003, an average of 60,000 911 calls were routed to the
MPD call center every month.
Chiozza said the consolidated center also will include
backup emergency dispatch space for Germantown, Bartlett and Millington in case
a severe storm or other emergency caused the municipalities individual centers
to shut down.
The new center will contain training space and will be
designed to withstand earthquakes, storms and terrorist attacks, Collins said.
It wont be a fortress, but communications must survive (in
the event of an emergency), he said.
Fee hikes. The 25-cent 911 service fee currently
charged on monthly phone bills for residential lines in Shelby County will be
raised to 65 cents. The current 50-cent fee charged for business lines will
increase to $1.30.
The most recent 911 service fee increase was in 1986. The
fee was lowered in 1992. The planned rate increases will move the districts
rates from their ranking as the lowest in the state to the mid-range of
A Tennessee Emergency Communications Board representative
said Memphis and Shelby Countys multi-use approach to the call center is the
first such effort in the state. To help in the planning process,
representatives of the countys E911 District visited San Diegos emergency
communications center, which underwent similar changes in the late 1990s.
Technology upgrades. Chiozza said the city and county
are one step away from completing a $4.6 million federally mandated upgrade of
the wireless communications technology in every dispatch center.
The effort was funded by a percentage of a monthly $1 charge
on all cell phone bills, paid to the TECB.
Collins said the costs involved in enhancing communications
technology justify the creation of a shared space that merges technology
When it involves spending communication dollars, you can
get into the millions very quickly, so sharing a space only makes sense, he
said. It would be tremendously expensive if each of us had to go out
separately to construct communication buildings. Thats not a good plan.
Shared goal. Chiozza said Metro Memphis population
increases make for unique emergency response challenges.
We have DeSoto, Fayette, and Shelby counties all booming,
and the boundaries are not going to change, he said. So you have to face
those issues regardless of lines; you have to work to overcome those problems
to ensure public safety.
Collins said the realization of the emergency center after
years of effort is refreshing.
It was a matter of the time being right and people being
able to put aside territorial issues and say, Lets do whats best for the
people out there doing the job, he said. Sometimes in the past weve had
turf wars you dont play in my sandbox and I wont play in yours.
But finally, enough voices said, Look, were all doing the
same thing providing help.