Local trooper dispatch line fried; 911 still works

Doo-dee-doop. That’s the sound lower Kenai Peninsula residents get when they try to call the Alaska State Troopers nonemergency dispatch phone number, 907-235-8239. The three-tone beep is followed by a recorded message saying “We’re sorry. Your call cannot be completed as dialed.”

That number died recently after equipment at the Anchor Point Alaska State Trooper Post failed due to an aging system, said Trooper Sgt. Daniel Cox, head of the post, in an email. Nonemergency calls can be made to 907-262-4453, a long distance call to dispatchers at the Soldotna Public Safety Communications Center.

“We understand that this is a long distance call and regret the inconvenience, but hope it is only temporary,” Cox said.

Emergency calls to 911 still work, and whether from a landline or cell phone will be connected to public safety dispatchers at the Soldotna Public Safety Communications Center. Calls made from within Homer city limits are routed to dispatchers at the Homer Police Station. A Soldotna dispatcher answers emergency calls outside city limits and routes calls to the appropriate fire and emergency services department or troopers.

Actually, all the lines at the trooper post failed, but troopers have been able to make the administrative line, 235-3000, usable, Cox said. That line isn’t answered after about 4:15 p.m.

The 235-8239 phone number, which would automatically connect after hours to the Soldotna Public Safety Communications Center and the trooper dispatcher, is out of service. The administrative line is answered at the trooper post, but it cannot be forwarded after hours to Soldotna dispatchers.

Cox said the problem began several weeks ago when troopers began having problems with its system at the Anchor Point Post. State technicians worked with Alaska Communications, the local phone company, and tried to fix the problem. Each fix caused more problems until the system completely failed.

Alaska State Troopers are looking at several options to replace the Anchor Point phone system, Cox said.

“Our command is working on selecting which option we are going to proceed with and getting work started,” he said. “We are working diligently on getting the issue fixed, but due to the multiple levels of approval needed, it is not known when the work will start.”

East End Road resident George Smallwood called the Homer News last Thursday to alert people to the problem. Smallwood lives near Mile 16 East End Road. Smallwood said in the past he has used the nonemergency trooper line to report issues like reckless drivers. He has a cell phone, but service is spotty.

“If I want to call dispatch up in Soldotna and want to report some activity, I have to call long distance or go up on top of the ridge to use my cell phone,” he said. “My question is, ‘Why should I have to do that? Why don’t I have cell phone coverage out here?’”

Jenny Martin, an aide to Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, said Seaton’s office is aware of the problem with the nonemergency local dispatch line. She got the same explanation as Cox provided, she said.

In discussions with the city of Homer on dispatch consolidation, the city and borough did not discuss a local dispatch line if Homer dispatch service was moved to Soldotna, said Paul Ostrander, special assistant to Kenai Peninsula Mayor Mike Navarre. Ostrander didn’t know if there was a toll-free nonemergency dispatch line.

Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said his office was aware that the nonemergency trooper dispatch number was down. Robl also said there had no been discussions regarding dispatch consolidation about providing a local, nonemergency dispatch number.

At the Oct. 24 Homer City Council meeting, the council passed a resolution rejecting dispatch consolidation, but council member Donna Aderhold has asked for reconsideration of the resolution. Reconsideration will be on the agenda at the council’s next meeting on Nov. 28.

Ostrander said a 911 fee charged to phone bills supports only 911 emergency equipment or dispatcher time handling a 911 call. Those fees cannot be used to support nonemergency dispatch equipment or time.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.