Omaha Experience Provides Insight Into Arguments Pro and Con
The Case for Leased Emergency Reporting Systems
CAUGHT BETWEEN the necessity to provide more effective emergency reporting on one hand and rising costs on the other, a growing number of communities throughout the country are investigating leased telephone facilities. From a cost standpoint, the most obvious advantage is a fixed yearly charge that covers rental, repair and maintenance. A single, stabilized cost which can be accurately budgeted eliminates problems caused by large, unexpected expenses.
Moreover, leased facilities enable large-scale modernization and system enlargement without capital investment. Many municipalities are also finding that it may cost less to lease than it does to own and maintain private systems.
While cost is a major factor, there are other advantages inherent in such leased facilities. Flexibility or multiple service is one key advantage. The same telephone call box can be used to report both fire and police emergencies. It can also be used to report other types of public emergencies through a central reporting center which swiftly relays calls to the proper authority. Where separation of routine police business from emergency reporting is desired, special equipment can be obtained which provides this function.
Most emergency reporting systems more than 20 years old are not geared to cope with present day needs. In order to provide the type of service vitally needed, municipalities generally must either enlarge and revamp present facilities or change over to a new system. Either approach entails careful study and determination of end objectives.
Arthur E. Gaeth, superintendent of fire alarm and communications for the City of Omaha, Neb., is one of the country’s leading authorities in this area. He has had experience with leased emergency reporting systems for more than 25 years.
“Installation of any type of alarm system and over-all costs depend on what one expects of such a system,” he says. Special features such as paging facilities, selective call on station telephones and paging circuits, status light indicating facilities, periodic inspections at least every 30 days, constant supervision for outages, recording apparatus and many other factors are items to be considered carefully.
“All of these are important from an insurance underwriter’s viewpoint,” Gaeth emphasizes, “and should be considered when trying to arrive at an equitable cost factor, whether leased or owned outright.’’
Omaha’s communications problems had much in common with those facing many communities today. Valuaable experience has been gained from its pioneering use of a leased emergency reporting telephone system.
Typical of many cities, Omaha’s previous fire alarm telegraph system was over 50 years old. Some repair parts were not obtainable. The city’s fire division owned all fire alarm equipment but unlike most other cities, its wire cables, maintenance and repair services were leased.
As far back as 1938, Omaha began using telephone reporting in an attempt to reduce the high percentage of false alarms. During that year, the department started to replace boxes that had a high incidence of false alarms with police telephone boxes painted half red and half aluminum with the words “Fire and Police” printed on the unlocked door. The interior contained an ordinary telephone handset terminated at the fire department PBX board. “It was our thought,” says Gaeth, “that a person who was about to turn in a false alarm would not want to talk to anyone about it.
“Aside from being far more efficient and of greater benefit to the public, Omaha’s emergency reporting telephone system with all its special features actually costs $8,000 less annually than the old system,” Gaeth explains.
Previously, Omaha’s telegraph fire alarm system had an expense budget of $39,000 a year, covering repair, maintenance, installation and leased cable costs all contracted from the telephone company.
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The present system leased through the Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. costs $30,844 annually. In addition to items provided by the old system, this cost now covers insurance, multiplealarm call-ups of key personnel by regular telephone company operators, minimum 60-day complete box and paging circuit inspections, weekly inspection, preventive maintenance of equipment at fire alarm headquarters and other services. Operating personnel costs have remained the same since the department always contracted for maintenance and therefore never required line repair personnel.
“To have renovated our old system,” Gaeth says, “we would have needed to spend approximately $850,000, an expense which the city felt it could not afford.
“We were motivated by the thinking that most official government bodies would prefer to have a definite, consistent budget figure each year. This eliminates varying demands which seem to be prominent when a city owns and operates its own system.” Gaeth explains.
One of the most important elements, in Superintendent Gaeth’s opinion, is the intelligence or information provided by having actual voice contact with people reporting emergencies. Knowing the type of each emergency, it is possible for the dispatcher to send only that equipment necessary to handle the call. “As a result, fire apparatus operating and maintenance costs are definitely reduced,” Gaeth emphasizes.
As one of the country’s leading experts on leased telephone facilities, Gaeth has received so many inquiries that he’s prepared a detailed report which he has sent in answer to letters from hundreds of cities throughout the country.
“We’re very pleased with our reporting system,” he says, “and we’re happy to share our experience with others.”