Santa Barbara dispatch center
The Santa Barbara County Public Safety Dispatch Center at the Sheriff’s Department includes dispatchers for law enforcement, fire and emergency medical personnel.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will look into splitting up the combined Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department/emergency medical dispatch center, and moving one of the dispatch systems to Santa Maria.  

The Public Safety Dispatch Center 9-1-1 dispatchers for law enforcement, fire and American Medical Response operate in one big room now, at the Sheriff’s Office headquarters at 4434 Calle Real. near Goleta

The Sheriff’s Department and County Fire Department have long butted heads over the joint venture of the dispatch center, and studies over the years have suggested various improvements to the system. 

The supervisors considered several options before asking staff to pursue the split, which First District Das Williams called a depressing divorce.  

The board considered putting the dispatch center under the County Executive Officer’s control and forming a joint powers authority to govern it; separating the law enforcement and fire/medical dispatch but keeping both at the same site (maybe by putting up a wall); and moving the fire/medical dispatch to the County Fire headquarters. 

They voted 4-1 to pursue the option of separating the law enforcement and fire/medical dispatch, with one moving to Santa Maria to create redundancy in case of (more) major disasters on the South Coast.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf dissented, saying she wanted to keep the two groups together with oversight transferred to the CEO.

“It sounds like we’re dealing with children,” she said. “I really haven’t heard any reason why sheriff or fire needs to move to Santa Maria.”

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said the two agencies have a longstanding problem and are “still fighting” over the Air Support Unit. There may be “too much testosterone” and a lot of people used to being in charge, he said.

Santa Barbara dispatch center

Dispatcher Kari Slone answers a 9-1-1 call in the Santa Barbara County Public Safety Dispatch Center Tuesday morning, with her personalized phone.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

“We should stop trying to keep them together and figure out how to make it work apart.”

County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato said county staff will talk to the city of Santa Maria, which wants to collaborate with the county, and assess costs, necessary upgrades, call volume and other issues in deciding which agency should move facilities.

Santa Maria’s relatively new facility is state-of-the-art and could support three counties’ worth of radio, 9-1-1 and data requirements, according to city representatives. The city will soon take over police dispatch responsibilities for Guadalupe, which currently contracts with the county for that service.

As the supervisors discussed changes for the dispatch system, they all noted that there are not concerns with dispatchers’ performance, which they said has been “amazing,” particularly with recent large disasters.  

During Tuesday’s board meeting, Sheriff Bill Brown said he wants to continue having a consolidated center, and argued that it has performed well and shortcomings are mostly due to budgeting.

The Fire Department wants out, with an independently governed fire and emergency medical dispatch center.

Fire Chief Eric Peterson and several city fire chiefs supported the option of separating fire/medical and sheriff dispatch, with one staying in the current building and one moving to the North County.

There are benefits to consolidated centers, but those only exist when there is truly shared governance, which there isn’t in the Santa Barbara center, Peterson said.

Santa Maria dispatch center

The centralized dispatch center in the Santa Maria Police Department will soon begin handling emergency dispatch services for the city of Guadalupe. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The idea of shared governance “has had an asterisk next to it” when talking to the Sheriff’s Department, he said.

Peterson also stressed the importance of upgrading technology and implementing policies to have a unified, borderless dispatch, where the closest resource available – regardless of agency – responds to a call.

Brown said he wholeheartedly supports the borderless dispatch and is “more than willing” to work on a new governance model, such as a JPA with a civilian director.

If fire/medical dispatch leaves, he said, he would accept it with conditions: Sheriff’s dispatch stays in the current building, make the fire department pay for its new facility, continue funding sheriff’s dispatch to keep staffing levels, and have redundancy with a North County facility in case there is a major disaster in the South County.

He also suggested creating two combined centers, one in the existing facility and one in the North County.  

Lee Waldron, the acting Santa Barbara City Fire Chief, and Ray Navarro, the chief for the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District, were a few of the chiefs who spoke in support of the separation option, suggesting the county upgrade its technology and create an independent governance model.

Dr. Angelo Salvucci, medical director of the county Emergency Medical Services, said Ventura County (where he worked previously) has a system similar to the separation option, with public safety answering points (PSAPs) all sending fire/medical calls to one center.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A stylized hawk's head on a red background

Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.