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Bayside abuzz with combined dispatch plans

Two employees coordinating staffing, IT for transition

Aug. 31, 2011

Bayside - Behind the scenes, plans are quickly moving ahead for a dispatch center that will serve the seven North Shore communities in Milwaukee County.

Last week, the Architectural Review Committee approved plans for a 4,160-square-foot addition to Village Hall, a big step toward an anticipated groundbreaking in November. The current building measures 18,167 square feet.

The addition, which will be built in the landscaped area just in front of the police garage, will have eight work stations for dispatchers with the capacity to add four more stations.

Remodeling a few departments

Village Manager Andy Pederson said the addition will necessitate minor Police Department remodeling. The present day entrance to the Police Department will also move, along with the court clerk's office as part of the plan.

The addition will allow the consolidation of three dispatch centers in the North Shore - the current one in Bayside that serves River Hills and Fox Point as well as Bayside, one in Brown Deer that serves that village and one in Whitefish Bay serving Glendale, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay and the North Shore Fire Department.

The six communities and NSFD will contract with Bayside to provide dispatching services. Fox Point and Bayside recently agreed to a 10-year-extension of its existing contract for the service, Pederson said. That makes all contracts current and up to date.

Although discussed at least four times over the last 25 years, the idea never went beyond discussion until a convergence of events and opportunities forced the issue.

Whitefish Bay would like the space now used by the Tri Community Dispatch Center for its Police Department. All the communities are looking for ways to save money, and anticipated upgrades to the 911 systems alone are expected to be expensive in coming years. Bayside has the most up-to-date dispatching equipment and the added benefit of being able to directly answer cellular 911 calls.

A year ago, when the center in Whitefish Bay flooded and its operations and personnel moved to Bayside for about a week, municipal leaders realized a consolidated center would work.

Move already paying off

The center is expected to save its members about $4 million over the next 10 years. The economies of scale are already becoming evident, Pederson said.

The dispatch center has a $2.5 million budget, with more than half of that going to technology purchases.

"The 911 controller for the new center will cost $600,000," Pederson said. That controller is an upgrade that would have been necessary in all three centers in upcoming years, likely at a cost of about $400,000 per center, he said.

Two Bayside employees hired in recent months are working hard on both the technology and employee parts of the puzzle that need to be solved before the center opens.

Mary Rauenbuehler is the manager of both the Bayside and Whitefish Bay centers, while Scott Grahn handles IT.

Rauenbuehler worked in a combined dispatch center in Manitowoc before moving to the area to work in the dispatch center in Brookfield. While there, she started working part time at the Tri Community Center, eventually becoming its assistant manager and later manager.

She was hired in June to manage both centers and the transition of the three.

Grahn, who was the first firefighter hired by NSFD on Jan. 1, 1995, retired in June. While at NSFD, Grahn worked not only as a firefighter but served as an in-house information technology employee once his probation period was over.

He helped do the street mapping for the computer-aided dispatch system at Tri Community for NSFD and in later years was a part-time dispatcher on his Fire Department off days.

He got his start in information technology while working for cable television in 1978.

"We provided HBO over the air," Grahn said. A variety of other technology jobs followed, taking him out of state but he moved back in 1987 and finished his last two years of school at MSOE, earning a degree in computers and electronic communications.

He had been taking tests to become a firefighter since he was 19 years old. When the opportunity arose to work as a firefighter after his MSOE graduation, he happily signed on with NSFD, a work situation that melded his two great interests.

Grahn is working on keeping software and hardware in the current dispatch centers up and running as well as working on a transition plan for the day that three systems will collapse into one.

Dispatchers have applied

Rauenbuehler will hire employees. The employees in Brown Deer and Whitefish Bay who are interested in working in the consolidated center have applied for jobs. Rauenbuehler said there will be 19 full-time dispatchers at the new center.

She also schedules employees and is working on training and cross training employees in Bayside and Whitefish Bay. She is getting the standard operating procedures from the three existing centers and creating a standard manual for the new center.

The list of things that need to be done is long, she acknowledged, but both she and Grahn have level, calm personalities and seem to manage their tasks with ease.

Pederson said they are good fits for their jobs and is happy to have them on board.

It's perhaps a testimony to the quiet progress that is being made when you consider the fact that lightning struck and knocked out the Whitefish Bay Center for 2½ days early in August. All fire dispatching for the entire North Shore and police dispatching for Whitefish Bay, Glendale and Shorewood once again moved to Bayside. And it was so seamless, no one knew.

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