SKOWHEGAN — An upcoming proposal aims to cut the number of 911 call centers in Maine, but won’t change how the one in Somerset County operates.

If enacted, the legislation would cut the number of centers that answer 911 calls and dispatch aid from the current 26 locations in Maine down to between 15 and 17.

The calls will be answered and dispatched from the same facility, Somerset County Communications Director Michael Smith said.

“It protects the citizens of Somerset County,” Smith said. “This means that all land-line 911 calls that are generated in Somerset County will continue to come in directly, just as they do now.”

The act also stipulates that all wireless emergency calls from cellphones made within one mile of the Interstate 95 or I-295 corridors be routed to a Department of Public Safety answering point.

All other 911 calls outside of that one-mile-wide corridor are to be routed to local, county-based dispatch centers, Smith said.

Smith said the number of public service answering points in Maine was whittled down from 48 when consolidation of services began about five years ago.

“This brings you to a regional approach — regionalization is at the county level — we already are a consolidated center in Somerset County,” he said. “We already dispatch fire, EMS and law enforcement for every agency except state police.”

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Michael Thibodeau, R-Waldo County, is to be introduced in Augusta on Wednesday.

The proposed legislation comes as a result of a Februaury 2010 report to the Joint Standing Committee on Utilities and Energy, recommending legislators further consolidate Maine’s public service answering points, or PSAPs.

The report, by L. Robert Kimball Associates, said that solution has the best potential to minimize dropped calls or blind transfers between call operators.

That report was commissioned by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

Thibodeau said the bill is important for efficiency and safety.

The proposed bill also allows municipalities to enter into a contract for the call services with another government agency for a minimum of five years. By Aug. 1 of this year each municipality must identify which call center it chooses to contract with.

Smith said he prefers the proposed bill — L.D. 1614 — over an alternative proposal from the Department of Public Safety for just two call centers in Maine.

There has been no formal legislation introduced for that idea, he said.”Two call centers for the entire state would mean every 911 call that’s made in the state of Maine will have to be transferred,” Smith said. “Which means if you call from your house, you’re going to go to Lewiston or wherever this center is and they’re going to have to turn around and transfer the call back to us.”

“The technology is already there to direct the call where it needs to, because we’re doing that today. By going to two centers you now introduce human error in that; somebody’s got to answer the phone and they’re going to transfer the call. We’d be degrading the system that we have in place.”

Smith said if the bill is passed into law, the state will then be charged with coordinating communications among cell phone companies for 911 compliance. He said the bill is endorsed by the Maine Sheriff’s Association and the Maine Federation of Firefighters, among others.

The hearing on the call center bill is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee hearing room.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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