Last Tuesday, Folly Beach City Council unanimously approved to discontinue involvement with Charleston County’s consolidated 911 dispatch system.

Numerous complaints from residents and city officials, emphasizing the system’s ineffectiveness and sluggish response times, prompted city officials to end their agreement with the county and ushered in plans to re-introduce a local dispatch system.

Councilman Eddie Ellis, who presented the ordinance before council, says dispatchers are unfamiliar with Folly Beach’s numerous unmarked locations and one-of-a-kind issues.

“All these problems could’ve been avoided, and unfortunately it took a chain of very bad incidents to wake people up,” says Ellis, referring to various reports over the past year of officers being dispatched to the wrong addresses, as well as an unsolved hit-and-run incident and a fatal heart-attack.

“We wouldn’t have had these problems with a local system,” Ellis adds.

Initially passed in 2007, the city initially intended to join the county’s centralized dispatch system in 2013, the expected date of the 911 center’s completion in North Charleston. Former city officials, however, pushed last March for an abrupt, short-term agreement with the county in an effort to reduce costs.

“We went in early and it didn’t work out the way we wanted,” says Councilman Paul Hume. “They weren’t ready for us and we weren’t ready for them.”

Hume says a centralized dispatch system is more effective in readily accessible communities, such as West Ashley and North Charleston, due to similar layout patterns and issues.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” says Hume, referring to the system’s inability to effectively serve the entire county. “In our little microcosm of the world here on Folly Beach, we’re a different place with different problems.”

The county has agreed to support the city in re-establishing a local system by providing 90 days of free dispatch service. Ellis says the city plans to have a dispatch system in full operation by October of this year.

“Our benchmark is September 30 at midnight,” says Ellis.

The city will remain in a long-term agreement with the county until further notice, allowing the city to re-enter the centralized dispatch system at no cost in 2013.

“If we pull out of both agreements, think about the services we’ll get,” says Ellis. “This gives them the incentive to treat us like they should’ve from day one.”

Council members will vote on the ordinance’s second reading July 12. If approved unanimously without amendments, the ordinance will undergo a third reading the same day and await adoption.

“I’d say its probable that we’ll vote that day on a third reading,” says Ellis. “I’ve been working with this from the beginning, and now it’s happening.”

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