TEWKSBURY — The trees are down next to the DPW at 999 Whipple Road, raising the curiosity of residents. The land is being cleared in preparation for the new Northern Middlesex Regional Emergency Call Center (NMRECC).
The facility, part of a state initiative to consolidate emergency dispatch centers, will be located in Tewksbury after several sites in the Merrimack Valley were evaluated, finally settling on the Whipple Road location. Tewksbury’s emergency operations center, currently housed at the police department on Main Street, will move to the new location along with dispatch operations from Dracut.
The two communities will have dispatchers, a supervisor and administrative assistant, and be overseen by an executive committee made up of town managers, and an operations committee consisting of police and fire chiefs.
The intent of the center is to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of emergency and 911 services. While these functions are already performing at a high level of service, the chance to have state of the art equipment and take 911 cellular calls directly at the site is a huge advantage.
According to Tewksbury Town Manager Richard Montuori, “the state is pushing for regionalization and the town will save money.”
The Northern Middlesex Regional Council of Governments (NMCOG) submitted a study in 2009 “at the request of managers and administrators across nine towns to assess the feasibility of consolidating dispatch services in Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Lowell, Pepperell, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro and Westford.”
Ultimately and for varying reasons, communities made their own decision about participation. Tewksbury and Dracut are moving ahead, and the center has room for at least one, if not two more communities down the line.
The costs for the center, including initial studies, were paid for by State 911 Development grants. The funding for the construction, equipment and software is also being funded by State 911 grants, since the state considers regionalization a priority. In consolidating emergency services on a regional level, response is expected to be enhanced further, and disaster response is expected to be more effective, according to several studies referenced by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
According to NMCOG executive director Beverly Woods, the project has received $4,745,005 in grants since 2016 to pay for “the architectural and design and OPM services, construction, equipment and a portion of the executive director’s salary.”
Woods also shared via email that “the NMRECC has applied for an additional $2,923,613.95 in construction and equipment costs under the FY20 Development Grant program that will complete the development of the NMRECC District facility.”
Revenues from wireless 911 calls will be the source of funding for the NMRECC once operational. According to a study during the planning phase, “it is estimated that the NMRECC could receive $550,875 to $780,000 in additional revenues by receiving all wireless calls for Chelmsford, Dracut and Tewksbury,” significantly reducing the costs for the communities.
Dracut and Tewksbury will share the costs but also share the savings.
Dracut Town Manager James Duggan said, “This center allows us to take advantage of state of the art technology and advanced training at a much faster rate than we could fund alone.”
Duggan said that the Baker/Polito administration has been very supportive, and Dracut expects to save $150,000 per year on the project.
As to the issue of concerns about dispatchers in another community not being familiar with the layout of the town, Duggan shared, “we have dispatchers now who live in other communities but support Dracut; they know how people identify different areas of town.”
Montuori and Duggan have high praise for the level of professionalism and quality of their dispatch operations.
E911 is a surcharge enacted by the legislature of $1.50 per line, landline or cellular, capable of reaching an emergency 911 call point. This surcharge will be reduced to $1 in 2024. The measure is designed to help cover the cost of equipment upgrades for emergency service points.
With the advent of cell phones, call volumes have increased, and pushing the calls to regional centers will enhance efficiency and response time. The Commonwealth’s 911 system is in need of upgrades and these surcharges go directly back to fund projects such as the NMRECC in Tewksbury.