LOWER TOWNSHIP — Six months after launching, a handful of dispatchers work in the new Cape May County dispatch center, but around them are empty work spaces waiting to be filled in.

This spring, it’s likely three of those empty stations will be filled as the center takes over dispatch services for Wildwood Crest.

“Everybody is taking a wait-and-see approach,” David C. Thompson, Wildwood Crest’s commissioner of public safety, said Thursday. “The whole county has been watching to see if they got the bugs worked out. Pretty much, a lot of the community feels that we’re in good shape.”

Despite the empty stations, county officials are still optimistic in their vision to create a centralized dispatching system that covers all 16 municipalities. It’s a move that will save municipalities time and money, officials say, while enhancing public safety and keeping jobs for dispatchers, who bring local knowledge and skills to the table.

On Jan. 15, Wildwood Crest became the fourth municipality in the county to announce it is going to transfer its dispatch services to the county. The borough joins Avalon and Stone Harbor, whose fire and EMS personnel are dispatched out of the center, while Lower Township joined with police, fire and EMS.

Thompson said joining the county dispatch center will save between $90,000 and $100,000 per year in salaries, benefits, equipment repairs and updating, but that’s just to start.

Those savings are estimated to increase to more than $150,000 per year, starting in the third year, Thompson said.

The center charges a quarterly fee based on the number of calls a municipality receives, said Marty Pagliughi, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

“But this is not all about saving money,” Thompson said. “Their dispatch center is state of the art. They will provide services that Wildwood Crest cannot provide.”

County officials launched the dispatch center — which also dispatches for the Sheriff’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office — in June after years of planning and putting $6 million into renovating the Lower Township Public Safety Building at the county airport. The center boasts the latest dispatching technology but also has systems in place to keep pace with municipalities with older systems.

Pagliughi said the center has two radio systems, a 700 MHz Public Safety Spectrum, which many municipalities in the state are upgrading to, as well as a VHF, or very high frequency system, that is more common.

“We can even patch the frequencies together so they can talk to each other,” Pagliughi said.

In addition, the center uses Next Generation 911, a service that allows residents on cellphones to text in their emergencies, and Emergency CallWorks, which can pinpoint a caller’s location to within 150 feet, Pagliughi said.

“The biggest problem with cellphones, for years, was that if you call 911 from a cellphone, it would go to the nearest cell tower, and sometimes that could be a couple miles away,” he said. “We’ve had them in Lower Township where it would go to Delaware.”

Thompson said Wildwood Crest wouldn’t have the upgraded technology without the regional center.

“In an emergency situation, that’ll be much more beneficial to our town,” he said.

It’ll take a few months for the county to absorb Wildwood Crest’s dispatch center as officials transfer data, complete testing and start training dispatchers on their system.

Wildwood Crest Fire Chief Ron Harwood said he thinks it will be a seamless transition and a “new adventure.”

“We’re excited about going,” he said. “With the costs in the future, this is how everyone wins.”

The county is interviewing dispatchers from the borough for positions at the regional center, Pagliughi said.

Keeping dispatchers was a “big factor” in Wildwood Crest’s decision to join the county, Thompson said.

Bringing on local dispatchers is a selling point for Pagliughi, too, who said their local knowledge is invaluable.

“It’s smart for us to hire local dispatchers from a municipality we take,” Pagliughi said. “We can cross-train with the existing dispatchers we have. It just makes sense.”

Contact: 609-272-7241 Mbilinski@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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