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Keeping up with technology is important, and that goes double for the technology involved with dispatching 911 calls, be they for police, fire or ambulance calls.

Still, the announcement last week that Harford County was receiving $750,000 in federal funding to match another $1.5 million in local money for an upgrade of the local 911 dispatch operation sounded like a new version of an old song.

Every few years, it seems there’s a new proposal to upgrade the 911 dispatch system, often as not with one of the goals being to eliminate a few dead spots in the coverage area.

This latest upgrade, estimated to cost less than $3 million, is relatively inexpensive compared to previous radio system upgrades.

One done back in 2005 cost $23 million, though that one involved a major change in equipment.

A couple of things are worth noting about these upgrades:

o The dead spots sometimes cited as a reason for upgrading the system don’t seem like something that’s going to be fixed anytime soon, at least if radio dispatch is anything like cell phone transmission. Though Harford County is littered with cell phone towers, anyone with a cell phone can attest there are still plenty of dead spots.

o Another reason sometimes given for upgrading is to keep up with a neighboring jurisdiction that has upgraded its system. This, of course, rapidly devolves into a local government form of keeping up with the Joneses, and upgrades to the local system should be done based on solely on the needs of the local system.

When it comes down to it, Harford County’s getting $750,000 in federal money for upgrading the 911 dispatch system is better than not getting anything. And improving the 911 dispatch operation is, at least generally speaking, a good idea.

Still, there’s reason to be concerned about the 911 dispatch system becoming a project that’s never completed.

When county officials start talking about bringing in consultants to review what needs to be done, as is happening with this upgrade, it’s worth keeping in mind that consultants hired to look at government operations are like car repair shops that recommend fixing more than what you thought was broken. Everything that ends up being recommended, though, doesn’t necessarily need to be done.


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