ITHACA, N.Y. — The director of the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response, Lee Shurtleff, is retiring after 30 years of service in the county.

The county’s department of emergency response oversees emergency dispatch and communications systems when local residents call 911. County Administrator Jason Molino announced that former undersheriff Brian Robison will oversee the department as interim director while a search, anticipated to take about 18 months, takes place for a new director.

Robison took over full-time at the Department of Emergency Response on Monday, Jan. 7. Shurtleff is helping Robison transition during January, and from there will continue to provide support and consultation to the department on a part-time basis until his official retirement in April 2020. Molino said Robison brings “considerable experience” in public service in Tompkins County. He was undersheriff for the past four years and served on Tompkins County Legislature between 2010 and 2014. He also has more than two decades of experience as an investigator with the Ithaca Police Department.

Related: Dispatchers, local officers utilize Tompkins Swift911 system to help lost child

Shurtleff began as a fire dispatcher in Tompkins County in March 1988, which he continued as he was appointed county elections commissioner. In August 1997, he was named assistant fire and disaster coordinator and promoted to director of the Emergency Communications Center in 2002 and the next year appointed director of the Department of Emergency Response. The county highlighted some of the accomplishments under Shurtleff’s tenure.

  • The decade-long development and implementation of the County’s new 800 MHz P25 radio system (the largest capital project in County history) which has ensured excellent coverage and interoperability among agencies, and also enabled federal interoperability capability—addressing interoperability needs dramatically emphasized during the nation’s 9-11-2001 terrorist event;
  • Opening of the new DOER building housing a consolidated 911 Center and communications and dispatch facility;
  • In partnership with County Information Technology Services, acquiring and implementing the new Spillman Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system;
  • Acquiring a series of grants that were used to replace the 911 phone system, upgraded the Motorola operating system, replaced the recording system, and upgraded the microwave system;
  • Implementation of emergency medical dispatch (EMD) protocols;
  • Entering into collaborative agreement with the City of Ithaca to support the training center and a county-wide hazardous materials response capability;
  • Development of the County’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Program, incorporating an “all-hazards” approach, as a result of the 9-11 terrorism and widespread catastrophic natural disasters in the early 2000s, and spurring unprecedented levels of cooperation and involvement by the county’s many disciplines and responders.

“It is difficult to envision Tompkins County’s Department of Emergency Response without Lee Shurtleff at the helm. We truly appreciate the dedicated service Lee has provided to Tompkins County and its emergency services over his many years of leadership,” Molino said in a statement.

Featured image: From left, Lee Shurtleff, director of Tompkins County Emergency Response; District Attorney Matthew Van Houten; Emergency Services Dispatcher Alex Kreutzer; Dispatch Supervisor David Cotterill; and Joshua Adams, president of the Kiwanis Club of Ithaca-Cayuga. Local dispatchers and police were honored Oct. 15 by the Kiwanis Club of Ithaca-Cayuga for helping get a lost child to safety.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.