Local officials in Ketchikan are pushing back against a plan to close the borough’s Alaska State Trooper dispatch center and relocate its seven staff to Anchorage.
The plan — which also includes transferring dispatchers in Wasilla and Soldotna — was the subject of much concern at the latest meeting of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, whose mayor believes that centralizing dispatch operations could leave Southeast Alaska communities high-and-dry in a disaster.
The Alaska Department of Public Safety told Ketchikan Gateway Borough staff in late November that it intends to close the local state trooper dispatch center. It plans to transfer the seven dispatchers currently located in Ketchikan to a new facility in Anchorage by July 2021.
Those dispatchers take calls from the public and relay them to nearby state troopers.
The planned closure is part of a wider effort to centralize dispatch operations. Early estimates put the cost savings at nearly $1 million.
But Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor — and former state trooper — Rodney Dial said relocating trooper dispatch facilities to Anchorage could have negative consequences in a disaster.
“It’s obviously a concern for us because it affects our citizens, represents a loss of state jobs on our island, could potentially diminish services, especially emergency response capabilities,” Dial said during a Dec. 2 Assembly meeting. He said that local knowledge is important for regional dispatchers as they assist troopers in responding to emergency calls.
He also said the dispatch center in Ketchikan serves as an important backstop in case a disaster — like an earthquake — takes the Anchorage dispatch center offline.
Dial said the Ketchikan facility also has the ability to facilitate communications with local troopers on its own radio network, even if the troopers’ statewide radio system is disrupted. He said the local Ketchikan radio network is a good backup in case disaster strikes.
“It’s kind of a ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ approach,” he said.
Troopers say there’s another dispatch center in Fairbanks currently being upgraded to handle statewide dispatch.
In an emailed response to KRBD’s request for comment, Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters wrote that, even if dispatchers aren’t local, they can still provide quality service — for instance, Fairbanks dispatchers take calls from Kodiak Island and many places in Western Alaska.
In addition to the projected cost savings, Peters wrote that relocating dispatch services to Anchorage would make it easier for the state to hire new employees, since the applicant pool would be much larger.
Dial said he’s hoping to keep at least one dispatcher in Ketchikan to serve as an emergency backup. He said he’s working with Ketchikan’s state legislative delegation to keep the facility open.