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Faster response times hoped for under new 911 system

Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 at 3:17 pm

Emergency dispatcher Terri Kelly at her work station. Photo by Adam Thorp.

One of the useful consequences of Pike County’s newly launched unified 911 system: more hands on the tiller.

Operators took their first call after moving into the building that will house in early April.

Pike County’s sheriff, the recently hired director of the system and its emergency dispatchers agree: more dispatchers on the phone means more freedom and flexibility as they field incoming calls for help.

Previously, 911 callers in Pike County would usually reach one or two dispatchers at one of several places in Pike County. The new revenue being pumped into the system means calls that go through to the new facility behind the Sheriff’s office will usually be two or three dispatchers, meaning one dispatcher can stay on the phone while the other gets first responders on their way.

“Previously the call taker had to disconnect the call or put the person on hold while they got service providers en route. That’s where we’re saving our time,” Korte said.

“Now we’ve got two and three dispatchers, so that when we get a large volume of calls we’ve got the people on hand to handle those calls without having to get behind on answering calls during a disaster or a motor vehicle accident or something like that,” Pike County 911 Director Jim Porter said. During a motor vehicle accident, Porter added, the system can get swamped as one motorist after another drives by, spots the crash and calls it in.

“Everything’s under one roof. Everything is better coordinated,” Sheriff Stephen Korte said. “You don’t have the additional commotion of [other] operations going on in the same room as 911 operations.”

Dispatcher Terri Kelly agreed.

“[Its] a lot calmer,” Kelly said.

The various improvements underway at Pike County 911 made possible by a sales tax passed by Pike County voters last year, which also prompted the creation of an independent 911 Board. An interim 911 Board will be replaced by a board elected on April 2.

“We’re changing some of the procedures for dispatching, bringing it to what we call industry standard. The way we’re able to do that is because we have more funds available,” Porter said. “That gives us the ability to make this somewhat of an enhanced 911 center and be able to do additional training.”

The ability to pay higher salaries, Porter noted, would help Pike County 911 keep its dispatchers, who had the option of taking almost certainly higher wages around St. Louis. The dispatchers included people who had previously dispatched from the sheriff’s office, Louisiana and Bowling Green. Additional training for their dispatchers would be a major priority for the department.

“Our challenge is getting people trained. We have good people working here, as good a dispatcher as I’ve seen anywhere. They are dedicated to their jobs. [But] it is time consuming to get someone

Pike County 911 had previously been taking calls in the sheriff’s office. They had been able to take calls in the new building for some time, but delayed the move until they had a back-up generator ready to kick in should they lose power.

Korte added that the sheriff’s department was already seeing the benefits of the new system — though, he cautioned.

“Mostly as an end user, as far as being dispatched by 911, having the more personnel on has already had an impact in shortening response times a little bit. Unfortunately, in a county as large as ours there just aren’t enough resources to really nail down [response times]. But when you can shave off a minute or anywhere else, that’s a really great thing,” Korte said.

Porter took a two-year contract as Pike County 911 Director in November 2018. He had previously established a 911 dispatch center in Potosi in Washington County. Pike County, he said, had been a less difficult lift, since Washington County hadn’t previously run a 911 system.

Still to come: a system for Emergency Medical Dispatching, so dispatchers can walk callers through steps to alleviate their medical emergency while first responders rush to their side.

Porter said last week that Pike County 911 was working to implement “alarm assignments,” a standard way of contacting the many different emergency responders around Pike County. Porter also said Pike County 911 was working with Pike County Memorial Hospital to begin dispatching ambulances directly, instead of passing calls through the hospital. They are also in the process of updating their mapping system.

And in the long term, the 911 center will need a more permanent home than the mobile office set up behind the sheriff’s office in Bowling Green.

Porter hopes that the public in Pike County will come to see the benefits of the system.

“Hopefully, they’ll be seeing a faster response when there is an emergency. We’ll be able to give the emergency responders more support,” Porter said. “For the public, it means we’re more available, with more people, to answer emergency calls.”