But you might have to think outside the box.

A phone call to a company's customer service center is all it takes to drive home the fact that downsizing and outsourcing has become a way of life in America. Both private and public sectors have bought into the consolidation craze, which technology is at the heart of. Many more miles and much less personal service separates clients and service providers than ever.

    Whenever businesses and government agencies decide to close offices and operations centers and bundle them into a bigger facility elsewhere, it's the rural areas that suffer. You don't see companies like Midcontinent Communications or Great Plains Natural Gas choosing to keep satellite offices open in smaller, more remote cities to accommodate the customers in surrounding communities and closing down or scaling back their operations in larger, supposedly more central locations. Nor would the U.S. Postal Service, in its ongoing plan to cut costs, even consider shuttering Crookston's post office to keep the one in, say, Shelly open.

    This does make sense when consolidations/closures are, in fact, necessary. Too often, though, those who don't live within the metro vicinity of where the center is located are greatly inconvenienced and largely forgotten within the system. They cannot simply swing by the office to drop off a payment or pick up a piece of equipment and experience longer waits for service technicians to come and fix the problem. It's a hassle that in some cases can affect a family's well being.

    The Minnesota State Patrol is the latest government agency to announce a consolidation plan. It involves the state's Public Service Answering Points (PSAP) system, which currently has nine centers operating throughout the state. The MSP plans to close all but two of these centers, including one in Thief River Falls, over the next few months, which would leave only the primary call center in Roseville and a smaller one in Rochester to answer emergency 911 calls coming in from highways or interstates under the MSP's jurisdiction.  

    So what will this mean to the residents of Greater Minnesota? For one thing, these types of calls involving the northern two-thirds of the state will be dispatched from the metro area. The MSP maintains that this will actually be safer for residents because response time will speed up.

The current configuration is understaffed, it says, and the 36 displaced dispatchers will be given the chance to relocate to one of the centers remaining open. Because the Roseville location will have multiple dispatchers on hand, calls will be answered in an instant and communicated immediately with troopers in the appropriate areas.

    Maybe so, but local dispatchers are more familiar with the area and as such, are more qualified to handle emergency situations there. They also have a rapport with the troopers and staff in their region that makes for better communication lines.

    A better solution might be to instead route all 911 calls made within an area to the nearest dispatch center, whether it be a city or county operated one, and allow the dispatcher to work with the appropriate emergency responders. Cities and counties are looking at combining their 911 services, so why not bring the state in as well?

    Consolidation need not only come about from within the confines of one agency to work; it may pay to think outside the box.