Merge 9-1-1 centers now

When the "big one" hits — we're talking earthquake here — it's less than comforting to know that on the list of local buildings most likely to collapse is the one housing a key 9-1-1 dispatch center.

To be sure, other buildings on the highest-risk list are cause for concern as well. The list compiled by state officials includes one of Medford's fire stations, the Butte Falls Volunteer Fire Department, 10 public schools and two Rogue Community College buildings. All should be upgraded as soon as possible, along with 45 other school and emergency buildings rated as high-risk but not among the top 15.

But it is the Southern Oregon Regional Communications Center on the top floor of the Jackson County Courthouse that ought to get top priority for swift official action. And retrofitting the courthouse to make it more earthquake-resistant is not the action we have in mind.

SORC is one of two dispatch centers in the county, the other being Rogue Valley Consolidated Communications, operated by the city of Medford. Talks aimed at merging the two centers broke off five years ago in a squabble over voting power among the various jurisdictions involved.

Those talks were revived in April.

A key element in discussions of a merger is the fact that neither dispatch center is large enough to accommodate both under one roof. The obvious solution is to pool resources and build one new, state-of-the-art building designed with the latest earthquake-resistant architecture.

The state Legislature is creating a seismic upgrade grant program, but funding it will take time. And it is unclear whether the county courthouse could be made safe enough for a dispatch center even if funding were available.

Meanwhile, one of the most crucial links in Jackson County's public safety system is at risk of being rendered inoperable in a major earthquake. There is no excuse for not addressing that risk immediately.

If local government officials didn't think they had a good reason to quickly do what common sense dictates should be done — combine all dispatch services in one agency under one roof — they do now.

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