Lawrence Co. 911 system now consolidated for countywide service to help teamwork, response time

Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 6:18 PM CST
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For quite a while now Lawrence County has been trying to get all of its countywide emergency responders consolidated into a single 911 system.

This past week that goal became a reality with the hope of better serving residents when they are in desperate need of quick aid.

Headquartered at Monett’s Justice Center, which also houses the town’s police and municipal courts, the Lawrence County 911 dispatch center was originally established in 1995 and funded by a tariff on landline phones.

But over time as less and less people had home phones, the 911 system almost went out of business because of a lack of funding until a half-cent sales tax was approved in 2019.

The goal was to get all county emergency calls going through the center and after getting 75 percent of the county’s emergency responders on-board, the Lawrence County 911 system finally became fully consolidated this past week when Aurora’s dispatch system, which also serves Marionville, joined the countywide group.

“There were some people kind of upset about it because the feeling was, ‘If we’re not doing it we’re not gonna get good service,’” said Jon Holmes, Aurora’s City Manager. “But the city council looked at that and said, ‘There’s all these other entities that are in Lawrence County that are using them already and they’re getting good service. We can do that too and save some money.’”

The $400,000 saved by the city for not having its own 911 dispatch will be used for other police and fire department needs and residents will no longer be paying separate city and county taxes that supported different 911 systems.

“So essentially they would be getting double-taxed on that,” Holmes said.

From the original seven police and fire departments served, the Lawrence County 911 dispatch now serves 19.

“So for the people who use 911 now the whole county of Lawrence comes into one center,” explained Bonnie Witt-Schulte, the Lawrence Co. Emergency Management Director. “Previously for instance a call would come into the Monett center and we’d then have to transfer it to the Aurora center. That no longer happens which provides for quicker service and quicker response for people who are having an emergency.”

As with any changes there are worries.

“There’s a misconception out there that we’ll be dispatching someone from Monett,” Witt-Schulte said. “But the dispatching part of things did not change. The fire and police departments that are located in those towns are still located there and we simply radio to them that they need to respond to the emergency within their city.”

While there has been some resistance, Jack Schulz, a member of the Lawrence Co. Emergency Services Board, said that’s to be expected in the “Show-Me” state.

“Let me give you an example,” Schulz said. “Back when we first brought the 911 system to this area we had to change all the road numbers and addresses. We had people resist that but they recognized the need and the benefit. We’ve found over the years because we’ve gone through the process more than once that after we’ve been in it for a period of time, we have people say, ‘Wow, this is better.’”

The state, who’s been encouraging counties to consolidate services, is supplying grant money to cover the $84,000 for new equipment and $221,000 Monett needs to increase the work load.

Schulz said there are more needs that still need to be addressed.

“The next need is better communications via radio,” he said. “Primarily up around Miller and those areas we’re having a hard time being able to communicate with the services.”

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