Borough decides to clarify glitch in communications

Posted: Monday, February 24, 2003

Advancing communications technology has led the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to consider clarifications to a 1985 ordinance authorizing a boroughwide emergency communications system.

A request for clarification came from the eight-member E-911 Board of Directors, which was forwarded in a memo to the assembly by David Gibbs, coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management, Borough Attorney Colette Thompson and Mayor Dale Bagley.

According to a memo, the borough was authorized by state law in 1985 to establish the emergency communications system in the unincorporated borough in response to a state law authorizing such systems.

In 1989, the borough set up the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center in Soldotna and established a board of directors to oversee its operation.

The borough ordinance extended emergency communications services to any city that relinquished its communications powers to the borough. All first class and home rule municipalities did so.

But that left a lingering issue that has not been adequately clarified in code. While the cities gave up communications powers, they did not relinquish dispatching services. There is a distinction.

Communications involves call-taking services, which occur when a call is made to the E-911 center and an E-911 operator speaks with the party needing assistance, the memo said.

Dispatching services, on the other hand, occur when the E-911 operator contacts the appropriate emergency providers, advises them of the emergency and communicates with the responders.

Ordinance 2003-07, which gets a public hearing April 1, would make it clear that cities did not relinquish dispatching powers.

Currently, all 911 calls go to the E-911 center at the Alaska State Trooper offices at Soldotna. Today's new communications technology allows all land-based calls from within the cities of Homer, Kenai and Seward to be directly routed to their respective dispatchers rather than first answered at the trooper office. But the existing borough code does not specifically provide for such rerouting.

The ordinance would clarify that calls may be rerouted automatically to those cities, and it also would clarify that the mayor is authorized to provide dispatch services for borough areas outside the cities either directly or through agreements.

The proposed ordinance also addresses another sticky issue resulting from provisions of the Alaska Open Meetings Act.

That act states that a discussion between any two advisory board members constitutes a meeting requiring public notice. Since 2001, the emergency management coordinator has been considered a board member. That job requires frequent discussions with other members of the board in order to follow through on board business, thus putting the members in conflict with the Open Meetings Act if such conversations are held without prior public notice.

The proposed ordinance would remove the emergency management coordinator from the board. The borough's interests still would be represented on the board through the Nikiski Fire and Central Emergency Services chiefs.

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