Study Panel Rejects 911 Center/Emergency Management Merger

August 15, 2011
Supervisor Paul Rusk 249-9667 (home) 232-3405 (day)
County Board


Dane County will not be merging its two emergency response agencies following the unanimous recommendation of the panel charged with studying the issue, according to Dane County Supervisor Paul Rusk, chair of the Public Protection & Judiciary Committee. Rusk’s 2011 budget amendment required a thorough study be conducted before any merger would occur.


         “Following an extensive review we concluded that the cost savings to the county was not sufficient to merge these two critically important public safety agencies,” said Supervisor Rusk. “Since the missions and operating procedures of the two agencies are so different, I believe we are best served with two separate departments working to protect public safety in our county,” he added.


         An extensively detailed report was issued by a committee charged with studying the pros and cons of consolidating the Department of Emergency Management with the Department of Public Safety. The study team examined the organizational structures of the two agencies, including those used by other counties in Wisconsin; what opportunities or threats the consolidation may pose; and an analysis of several organizational options in such a merger. The public, including emergency response officials from around the county, voiced their opinions at a public hearing before the County’s Public Protection and Judiciary Committee.


         The Department of Emergency Management has an extensive mandate. It is responsible for preparing, responding, and recovering from all types of emergencies or catastrophic events, and is organized into three umbrella divisions: Emergency Planning, Hazardous Materials, and Emergency Medical Services. The Public Safety Communications Department, or 911 Center, takes emergency calls, and - in its centralized communications center - dispatches the necessary people and equipment to reach their urgently needed destinations. It services the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, Madison Police and Fire Departments, 21 other law enforcement agencies, 26 local fire departments, as well as 21 EMS agencies.


         Both departments assist individuals and communities with emergencies and crises, but their scope and scale of services are each different and unique. The committee’s own analysis, and the feedback from the public hearing, revealed many of the same worries. Some of the many concerns included:

• A reduction in the level of service provided by Emergency Management

• Capacity in a merged department may not be sufficient to manage a crisis or         


• The previous Emergency Management Director headed both agencies for a nine

   month period and opined that it was not a sustainable model

• County-wide medical direction may be sacrificed.


         Although the report recommended that the two departments remain separate, it did encourage the two departments to continue to “work together to improve communication and coordination, operational efficiency and effectiveness.”


         Members of the study committee were Supervisors Paul Rusk and Carousel Bayrd, Chair and Vice-Chair of the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, Director of Public Safety Communications John Dejung, Interim Director of Emergency Management David Janda, and Josh Wescott, Chief of Staff to County Executive Joe Parisi. Travis Myren, Director of Administration, provided staff support and analysis to the committee.                                                                       

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