By Scott Williams
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE and WAUKESHA — When it comes to handling emergency police and fire calls, Milwaukee County and Waukesha County have got each other's backs.
The neighboring counties have agreed to serve as each other's backup if either county's dispatching center malfunctions or is rendered inoperable during a disaster.
Each county previously had a backup that was closer to home: the City of Milwaukee and City of Waukesha, respectively.
Both decided that having a partner farther away was better, to prevent a tornado or other catastrophe from knocking out both the main dispatch system and its backup. Waukesha and Milwaukee are about 20 miles apart.
"You don't want your backup to be right next door," Milwaukee County sheriff's Capt. Matthew Paradise said.
Each county employs its own staff of dispatchers to handle incoming 911 calls and mobilize police officers, firefighters or other needed emergency help.
Waukesha County Emergency Preparedness Director Richard Tuma said the City of Waukesha's dispatching center, in addition to being too close, proved to be too small to provide a reliable backup.
Tuma said talks began with Milwaukee County during recent remodeling work inside Waukesha's center. The Milwaukee County facility, he said, can either handle direct rollover calls from Waukesha County or accommodate dispatchers relocated from Waukesha County.
"It just makes more business sense," Tuma said of the new partnership.
Both counties will continue providing backup to their former municipal partners.
Waukesha Deputy Police Chief Wayne Dussault said the city Police Department has worked well with county officials.
"You couldn't ask for better relations," he said.
Milwaukee police Lt. Dan Schmerse said it has been several years since the city's dispatching center was disrupted and needed backup.
Schmerse said he was pleased nonetheless to see the two counties building a new alliance and improving cooperation in the region. If a natural disaster or other major event occurs here, he said, it will be important for neighboring agencies to know each other.
"They'll be comfortable working with each other," he said.
Paradise said the backup agreement is still being implemented, with Waukesha County dispatchers testing their systems in Milwaukee County and vice versa.
Although he was unsure how much longer that process would take, Paradise said either side could give reliable backup now if needed.
"There seems to be a good working relationship," he added. "It's definitely something that's doable."
Copyright 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisc. dispatchers to provide backup across counties