Northampton County and Allentown partner as 911 backup centers
At a news conference at the Northampton County 911 Center in Upper Nazareth Township, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and County Executive John Brown said the municipalities will use each others systems in the case of an emergency. Should the city’s or county’s center be knocked offline by a disaster, the other will be able to immediately handle its partner’s emergency calls.
“By providing this regionalized approach, we are stronger, faster and better equipped to meet the needs of the Lehigh Valley,” Brown said.
Both counties have already purchased the equipment and will link through fiber optics in the coming months, said Todd Weaver, deputy director for systems management of Northampton County’s Emergency Management Services. He and Michael Hilbert, Allentown’s director of communications, expect the systems to be linked by November.
The technology also allows either center to move its operations out of their dispatch centers if needed, said Bob Mateff, director of the county’s Emergency Management Services. Employees could move to the other center in the event of an emergency to do their work or set up a remote center at another location, he said.
Hilbert said future state funding for 911 centers will depend on systems partnering with one another to add redundancies in case of emergencies. By partnering now the two centers will be ahead of the curve, he said.
Pawlowski said the city has no plans to merge with other 911 centers moving forward. Allentown and Bethlehem are the last two cities in Pennsylvania that maintain their own 911 systems and expenses have increased in recent years as funding remains stagnant. Trends of customers abandoning landline phones and the 911 fees they produce has not helped matters, Mateff said.
While Pawlowski wouldn’t rule a future merger out of the question, he said the city’s system plays a more active role in crimefighting than its neighbors. Dispatchers also monitor the city’s camera system and notify police if they spot a crime taking place, he said.
“I really don’t want to lose that at this point in time,” he said.
Hilbert and Mateff said it’s likely other 911 centers in the region will eventually enter similar agreements with Allentown and Northampton County. The two municipalities found themselves needing to buy new equipment at the same time and it made sense to coordinate with one another, they said.
Mateff added that Northampton County should follow Allentown’s lead and begin accepting 911 notices via text messages. The Queen City is one of just five centers in Pennsylvania that accepts text messages, Hilbert said. Mateff said Northampton County should join those ranks in the next two months.
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