County 911 call center upgraded

New monitors, other items to help dispatchers respond to emergencies more efficiently

July 02, 2006|By ELLIE BAUBLITZ | ELLIE BAUBLITZ,SUN REPORTER

Carroll County's 911 emergency dispatch center has received a major facelift that will make the working environment a little easier for those handling calls for illness, accidents and fires, officials said.

Verizon representatives and officials from the county Office of Public Safety swarmed around the dispatch room Wednesday, crawling under desks, huddling in consultation and sitting at multi-monitor set-ups, finalizing the changeover from the 9-year-old 911 phone system to a modern automated computer system.

"It's more reliable and a much more user-friendly way for us to receive calls," said Randy Waesche Jr., county emergency communications coordinator. "Everything is systems technology driven."

With comfortable chairs, spacious desk consoles, six large flat-panel display screens and phone headsets, call takers and dispatchers can now more easily answer emergency calls, instantly see where the call is coming from, take information and monitor the status of the call through its conclusion.

"They actually use a mouse to answer the phone," said Jeff Eichler, Verizon 911 sales engineer. "The call comes in through the computer and shows up on a screen where it shows where the call is coming from."

The six monitors -- a street map, a Verizon phone screen, two status screens, a call-taking screen and a Motorola radio system screen -- show who is calling, where the person is and who is available, said Jack Brown, dispatch shift supervisor, who took one of the first calls Wednesday.

Program features include speed call, integrated TTY for the hearing impaired, Phase II Wireless for locating cell phone users and Global Positioning System technology, said Eichler.

There are even different rings for each type of phone call -- 911, Sheriff's Department and administrative or nonemergency.

"It has the ability to archive data, and it's a good statistics tool -- just about anything that can be measured, we can do now," Waesche said. "It took a lot more effort before."

In addition to basic statistics that the office is required to keep, staff and agencies that use the system, such as Maryland State Police and Westminster City Police, can also use the system's enhanced record-keeping capabilities to look up archived data, such as how many calls came in from the same number during a specific time period, Waesche said.

It also charts staff productivity, such as the rate at which calls are answered and interview time, Waesche said.

"The computer keeps track of everything we do," said call-taker Mike Clapsaddle. "It's better. We've all been trained on it, but like anything new, it takes time to get used to it."

Clapsaddle, who has worked in the 911 center for 36 years, said, "It's a far cry from when I started -- we had a desk and two radios, and we blew the firehouse siren by dialing a sequence of numbers. We only had one [dispatcher] working a shift."

The enhanced center also got four additional work stations. The main dispatch room has five desks for fire and emergency medical services calls, other emergency calls, and dispatching; a second room has three stations for sheriff's dispatchers and two spare set-ups for training or bringing in extra personnel in the event of large scale emergencies.

"It seems to flow a lot easier to dispatch," said dispatcher Jerry Abel. "I know who's out and where and on what -- everything's pretty much at your eyesight. We never had six screens before."

Sheriff's Department dispatcher Mike Jordan said, "It's so much better. The biggest difference is the screens, they're all together. The phone system is great, too; the headset is the best. And everything is right in the computer."

Scott Campbell, Office of Public Safety director, said upgrading the phone system was a priority for Waesche when he joined the staff last fall.

The project, paid for through grants from the state Emergency Numbers Board, cost $961,721 for the phone system and $130,000 for the 10 work stations.

"The commissioners granted us an additional $30,000 to enable us to standardize the dispatchers' work environment immediately, rather than over an extended period," said Campbell. "Our new 911 phone system is the latest of several significant improvements and upgrades that we have been able to make."

ellie.baublitz@baltsun.com

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