A proposal to reduce the number of 911 response points statewide appears unlikely to affect the Waldo County Regional Communications Center, but Director Owen Smith said he’s not making assumptions.

On June 15, the Maine Public Utilities Commission opened an inquiry into whether the number of Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs, could be reduced from 28 to between 15 and 17 statewide. The move was undertaken based upon a study by a state-hired consultant to determine the optimum number of PSAPs for the state’s Enhanced 911 system.

Waldo County performs both PSAP and dispatch functions at the Regional Communications Center and Smith said he believed the county was better served when the functions were combined.

“No one here’s going to make the mistake to send a call from Knox to Knox County,” he said, after relating how this had happened once in the past.

Improved networking and mapping technology — the “enhanced” part of Enhanced 911 — have closed the gap between local familiarity and what can be accomplished remotely, but Smith said he still believed there was a benefit to keeping both answering and dispatch functions local.

According to information on the Web site of the Emergency Services Communication Bureau, the state agency that oversees the E911 program, most PSAPs in Maine both answer calls and dispatch the appropriate services.

The current MPUC inquiry requires local officials to submit their opinions regarding the public safety impact of closing PSAPs, the criteria for determining the number and locations of PSAPs and how to go about closing those deemed unnecessary.

From a financial standpoint, Waldo County will probably not substantially benefit or lose out by remaining a PSAP or ceding the responsibility to another region, though Smith said in the unlikely event that Waldo County took on a larger region, the county could have to hire more staff or have a larger facility. The Communications Center fielded around 11,000 911 calls last year, Smith said.

According to Evelyn deFrees of MPUC, equipment and training for PSAPs are paid for through an Enhanced 911 telephone surcharge. Staffing is provided by the county, in Waldo County’s case, by the staff of the Communications Center

This isn’t the first time there has been a major reduction in PSAPs. In 2003 the state legislature voted to reduce the 911 answering points from 47 to between 15 and 24. That process, which was completed in 2007, yielded the 26 PSAPs now operating around the state, though MPUC later determined, and reported in the case docket for the current consolidation effort, that anything short of a full consolidation was “inconsistent with national trends.”

But why consolidate at all?

The docket indicates that the first consolidation was undertaken partly to maintain the 50-cent surcharge rate. It later states that the latest round of reductions, “may result in cost savings to the state E911 system. … However, the [commissioned report] cites service level improvement as the primary motivation for consolidation.”

Today, every Maine county has at least one PSAP. Androscoggin has two, Penobscot and York each have three, and Cumberland has six.

Smith offered the contrast of New Hampshire, which he said had two PSAPs for the entire state.

“I wouldn’t dare say now that anything is safe and secure,” he said. “But certainly, the multiple PSAPs [in Maine] are down south.”