County board approves 2-1-1 agreement with Central Dispatch to deal with information in emergencies

MARQUETTE – The Marquette County Board has authorized a memorandum of understanding between 2-1-1 information and Central Dispatch, which is expected to benefit both entities in collecting and disseminating information, especially in times of disasters or emergencies, including forest wildfires.

Gary Johnson, Central Dispatch manager, asked the county board to authorize entering into a memorandum of understanding with 2-1-1, which is run by the Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress and housed in its office building in Escanaba.

“They provide referral service for all types of different human services that folks need,” Johnson said.

“Many times, when folks don’t know where to call, they dial 9-1-1.”

Those calls to emergency dispatchers for non-emergency information can tie up operators.

“Our folks will always try to help and we can end up on a phone call for 10, 15 minutes trying to locate the services the folks are looking for,” Johnson said. “With 2-1-1, we simply refer them to dial 2-1-1 and they take care of that for us.”

Operators at 2-1-1 are staff trained to provide correct service referrals and maintain a much more accurate database of service organizations.

Johnson said the agreement was “a good thing to do.”

“Another thing that 2-1-1 has provided is in some disasters they can provide some help with fielding calls,” Johnson said.

The 2-1-1 service proved very helpful to Luce County and Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials during the Duck Lake Fire of 2012.

Before being declared fully contained on June 13 of that year, the fire that crews first began battling May 24 burned 21,069 acres, caused $4.1 million damage, displaced wildlife and residents and destroyed 136 structures.

Johnson said Luce County officials needed to collect information from property owners in the fire area. They set up a toll-free number which was answered by 2-1-1 operators. All affected property owners were directed to call that number.

“Luce County provided 2-1-1 with questions they needed answered and provided regular updates for the callers,” Johnson said in a memo to the county board. “By setting up the 800 number, the 9-1-1 center and Emergency Operations Center did not get overwhelmed with phone calls from property owners.”

Johnson said if a similar situation were to occur in Marquette County, 2-1-1 could be a resource to help reduce the volume of calls to the 9-1-1 emergency center.

“It’s a positive thing to have this memorandum of understanding in place,” Johnson told the board.

Commissioner Gregory Seppanen agreed, saying this is “one of those real easy, no-brainers.”

Seppanen made the motion the board authorize entering into the memorandum of understanding, which was supported by Commissioner Steven Pence, and approved unanimously by the county board.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.