The Hamilton Communications Center
Until 1960, when the “dial tone” came to Hamilton and Wenham, all telephone calls were handled by telephone operators. This included emergency and non-emergency police and fire assistance calls. The telephone office was located on Railroad Avenue at the current site of Hamilton Dentistry. Once a resident called for assistance, the operator would call a police officer at home. If the call was during certain times while a Hamilton Police officer was “on-duty”, she would ring a buzzer which sounded in the square. There was also a light that hung over the intersection of Bay Road and Railroad Avenue, which she could activate. The officer would call by using the nearest phone or walk to the telephone office to get the information. The City of Beverly allowed the use of their police radio frequency and they could dispatch via radio, calling “car 45”.
Upon the arrival of a dial tone to the Hamilton and Wenham area, the town officials knew that the telephone office would be closing. This left town officials with the problem of who would answer the police and fire calls. Robert “Bob’ Porter, a Wenham resident and New England Telephone executive, became an integral part of the solution. He gave technical advice when the two towns decided to set up an emergency communications center staffed by civilians. At that time the Emergency Center was operated under a regional agreement between the towns of Hamilton and Wenham. The Center was its own department with its own department head, known as the Chief Dispatcher. The Hamilton Police and Fire Chiefs and the Wenham Police and Fire Chiefs, as well as the two DPW directors, worked closely with the Emergency Center’s Chief Dispatcher. Thus ensuring that each department had its own voice in the day to day operations of the center. The towns were years ahead of their time in this decision. The first people hired to staff the emergency center were the same telephone operators who had been employed in town by the telephone company and were already used to the communications between the police and fire departments. A space was provided in the second floor of the (at that time) ‘newly’ built Hamilton Police and Fire station. The small room was soon expanded from its initial floor space. In 1978, the Emergency Center moved down a half level to where the kitchen stood. The room was renovated from a kitchen and outfitted with more up to date and time appropriate equipment than what the town possessed at the time. This gave more room for the ever expanding amount of equipment and technology.
In 1994, Hamilton and Wenham joined the Boston Area Police Emergency Radio Network (BAPERN). In the early 1970’s, a series of large scale incidents occurred in area cities that highlighted the inability of police officers from many responding agencies from communicating with one another on scene. It was this lack of interoperability that prompted the need for one radio system that could be utilized by all Boston-area law enforcement agencies. As a result, BAPERN was conceived and implemented. The lack of interoperability was felt in the Hamilton and Wenham areas as well, during a multi-jurisdictional event involving multiple North Shore agencies. As a result, Hamilton Police Chief Walter Cullen and Wenham Police Chief Peter Carnes requested funding to purchase a system which would add the BAPERN frequencies. The town of Hamilton became a control point for the North District of BAPERN. During this important update, new consoles and radios were purchased for the Emergency Center. Approximately during the same time, Massachusetts State 9-1-1 installed “Enhanced 9-1-1” which gave a read-out of the location of the call. This included the address and phone number of the call’s origin.
In 2007, the new and current Hamilton Public Safety Building was erected. A majority of existing equipment was moved from the old Police and Fire Station into the new Emergency Communications room. During the transition to the new building State 9-1-1 did a complete upgrade to the 9-1-1 system; adding a full computer based phone system including mapping, cell phone information and several other features. A State 9-1-1 grant in 2008-2009 let the Hamilton Police Department replace the radios that were purchased in 1994. A second grant in 2009-2010 allowed for the replacement of the old antennas. At the completion of that project the Communications Center is outfitted with state of the art and up to date (if not ahead its time) equipment.
In July of 2013, the Town of Wenham rescinded from the on-going agreement between Hamilton and Wenham to operate as a two town regional Communications Center. The town government in Wenham opted to join the Essex County Regional Dispatch Center operating under the Direction of the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, on the site of the Essex County House of Corrections in Middleton.
Currently the Hamilton Communications Center falls under the direction of the Hamilton Police Chief, however remains a separate department.
A good foundation for today’s Emergency Center was set by the work of the Chief Dispatchers of the past, Arlene Rollins (1960-1962), Jean Austin (1963-1967) and Regina Manthorn (1968-1984).