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Cost Allocation for Emergency Communications Centers: Part 2. Ten Potential Factors

This post is part of a two-part series that provides high level information about how emergency communications centers can allocate their costs to dispatched agencies and communities. When assisting clients in this area, we often identify the most appropriate cost allocation metrics for the environment and conduct a detailed analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of each factor.

Decision-making bodies tasked with determining a formula for allocating costs among agencies receiving services from a communications center need to identify factors on which to base the formula, metrics to quantify the factors and weights to assign to each factor (see our post on the Cost Allocation Process). Principles for allocating costs should drive the selection of a factor and its associated metric, as well as the assigned weight. This post presents ten different factors and describes what they measure.

1. Calls for Service

Calls for service may be a proxy for individual agency demands on the communications center; the more calls for service an agency has, the higher the demands placed on the communications center.

As a metric, calls for service is simple to calculate from a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. If calls for service is the only metric used, each agency within a discipline pays the same price for each call for service.

To mitigate the potential for pressure to reduce officer-initiated calls for service, communications centers can modify their calls for service counts by removing officer-initiated calls, or by weighting the officer-initiated calls less than those generated by an incoming 911 call. Some communications centers remove the officer-initiated calls and others add them back in if the call turns into a more involved incident such as a warrant arrest, an investigation of criminal activity or a pursuit.

2. Percent of Console Use

Rather than looking at the number of calls for service as a percentage of total calls for service, this factor considers an agency’s number of calls for service as a percentage of the total calls for service on a single talk group. Since fire agencies rarely have dedicated talk groups, this measure is more applicable to law enforcement agencies.

3. Number of Logins

Number of logins is another proxy of agency demand on the communication center resources and reflects the number of law enforcement personnel or fire agency apparatus that a dispatcher needs to monitor. While calls for service reflects the number of calls to which an agency responds, the number of logins reflects agency response policies.

4. Incoming Calls

Incoming calls is a proxy for community demands on the communication center. However, to use incoming calls as a cost allocation metric, the communication center must be able to identify the jurisdiction from which the call originated.

5. Population

A measure of potential community demands on the communication center, and one that is relatively easy to quantify, is population. Presumably, a larger population will generate more calls for service. Published population numbers only account for residents and may not even reflect the actual number of residents if a community is growing rapidly.

6. Population Per Square Mile and Per Capita Calls for Service

Population per square mile and per capita calls for service are both proxies for population characteristics. Population per square mile is an indicator of population density and allocating costs based on population per square mile reflects the assumption that calls for service will likely increase as population density increases. Allocating costs on per capita calls for service reflects the use of public safety services, law enforcement or fire, for a given population size.

7. Assessed Valuation

The assessed valuation of property in a jurisdiction is seen as a proxy for ability to pay and using assessed valuation as an allocation factor assumes that higher valued communities can afford to pay more and will benefit from public safety efforts in surrounding communities. Since assessed valuation is related to population (the more properties to assess value, the higher the total value), assessed value per capita can reflect a community’s ability to pay.

8. Radio Transmissions

Radio transmissions, measured in terms of total talk time, is another indicator of an agency’s demands on communications center resources. This indicator, however, is generally viewed unfavorably as it can create a disincentive to use the radio. While agencies do not want their personnel using air time unnecessarily, personnel should not hesitate to use their radio when necessary.

9 Number of Radio Subscriber Units

Number of radio subscriber units is a measure of potential demands placed on a communications center. However, this metric is useful only if policies regarding take home versus shared radio resources are the same across agencies.

10. Number of Sworn Personnel

Number of sworn personnel is a measure of potential demands placed on a communications center. The challenges with using sworn personnel as an allocation factor is that agencies have different staffing policies both in the field (e.g., number of personnel on a fire apparatus or in a squad unit) and in the station (e.g., size of investigative or administrative units).

In addition to the factors listed above, a communications center could use a weighted combination of metrics to mitigate the challenges of a single measure, improve the validity of the cost allocation formula and incorporate multiple agreed-upon allocation principles. When using multiple measures, the correlation among the measures should be considered, and certain metrics need to be normalized.

The array of possible cost allocation factors and multi-factor equations can seem daunting at the onset. What is important is that factors chosen ultimately reflect the needs and constraints of the PSAP and the agencies it services and is perceived as fair by all stakeholders.

We hope that you have found this series helpful. For questions about emergency communications center cost allocation or to learn more about DELTAWRX’s experience and services, please reach out to us here.

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