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Moderate uptick in 911 calls
Center sees small increase in volume

COVINGTON - Call volume at the Covington-Newton County 911 Communications Center increased a very moderate .55 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the agency's 2008 annual report.

All told, the center received 108,762 calls for service.

The vast majority - more than 85 percent - were for law enforcement agencies, which were sent on 92,492 calls total.

The Newton County Sheriff's Office responded to 58,077 calls; with the Covington Police responding to 27,209. Porterdale Police responded to 4,437 calls; followed by Oxford Police at 1,731; Animal Control at 899; and Georgia State Patrol at 93.

Total calls for law enforcement increased by just .15 percent.

Fire calls totaled 7,100, or 6.72 percent of total calls.

Newton County Fire Services answered 4,966 calls, with Covington Fire responding to 1,948 calls. Oxford Fire answered 186 calls.

The total call volume increase from 2007 was 2.3 percent.

The most marked increase in call volume was for Newton EMS. Total calls in 2008 were 9,170, accounting for 7.89 percent of all calls. That represents an increase of nearly 7.5 percent from 2007.

Smith said call volume has hit a plateau along with the county's growth rate.

"We had another very good year, another very busy year. We're grateful to see it hit a plateau. I don't know if that trend will continue," he said, noting fire calls are already increasing in 2009.

The vast majority of calls - around 60 percent - were answered in between 4 and 6 seconds, according to the report.

"That's phenomenal with the number of calls we get," Smith said. "My staff even makes it a competition among themselves to see how fast they can answer ... they do a wonderful job."

The 911 Center has, like most county departments, made cuts to its budget to address a countywide shortfall.

After consulting with the Sheriff's Office, Smith and his command staff reduced the number of dispatchers handling calls for that agency from two to one during the hours of midnight to 6 a.m. That alone saved $20,000, Smith said.

Reducing training and maintenance costs and asking employees to postpone ordering uniforms are other cost-cutting measures being taken.

"We're trying to be creative. We're trying to think outside the box," Smith said.

A staff reduction is one thing the center can't afford, he said, noting that staff has not increased since the county's growth boom began in 2001.

"We have no control over when that phone's going to ring, but we know what the trend is and we have to have the staff that's appropriate to answer that," he said.

The year 2008 also saw improvements to technology for 911 and public safety agencies, as progress was made to fulfill a voter-approved $6 million upgrade funded through Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenues.

The existing data system used by the 911 Center was expanded, at a cost of $1.2 million, to allow sharing of data between all public safety agencies in the county

Also, a new radio system was purchased for $4.6 million, again to allow interoperability between local agencies and those in surrounding counties.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.