When Isle of Palms signed up to be served by the Charleston County emergency dispatch center, Sullivan’s Island had to decide whether to follow its neighbor’s lead or go it alone.
For years, IOP has operated 911 dispatch for both islands. Starting Oct. 1, that responsibility will fall to the county.
“Our alternatives were not very good,” said Sullivan’s Mayor Mike Perkis.
On the one hand, there was the steep cost of creating a local 24-hour dispatch system. On the other, there were concerns about whether county consolidated dispatch and the island were a good fit. And there were worries raised by recent reports of a county 911 operator turning her back on some 45 calls for help from the public over the past eight months, Perkis said.
“Was this a system issue or a one-off personnel issue?” he said.
To address those concerns, county officials met with Sullivan’s Town Council last week to assure island leaders that the areawide dispatch system was a good choice and that the problem with ignored calls was about the conduct of one employee, Perkis said.
The call-taker was fired on Sept. 5 and later arrested on charges of obstruction of justice and misconduct in office. The mishandled calls resulted in no known injuries, but county officials called the lapse unacceptable and pledged to keep a closer eye on emergency operators to prevent additional 911 failures in the future.
County 911 operators will tour Sullivan’s with Fire Chief Anthony Stith and Police Chief Danny Howard to familiarize themselves with the island, Perkis said.
One person at the IOP dispatch center handles both the caller and notification of emergency services. In the county system, there is a call-taker and a person who dispatches first responders.
During the transition, the islands will retain a few telecommunications staffers at the IOP location to answer non-emergency calls and to work with the county to ensure emergency calls go smoothly, officials said.
IOP Mayor Dick Cronin said in a press release that emergency services will still have a local touch although calls from the island will be handled at the county 911 center on Palmetto Commerce Parkway in North Charleston.
“Callers should receive the personalized attention to which they are accustomed,” he said.
The county-run 911 dispatch center currently serves Charleston County Sheriff’s Office as well as county Emergency Medical Services and the Volunteer Rescue Squad. Mount Pleasant and North Charleston police and fire departments are on the system. Other participating fire departments include city of Charleston, Awendaw, James Island, St. Andrews Public Service District and St. Johns Fire District. Charleston Police will transition to the system in January, according to the county.