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Is The 911 Center in Crisis?
La Plata, Charles County - 8/1/2007
By Staff Writer Anna Dailey
IS 911 IN CRISIS or not? Charles County Emergency Services Director, Don McGuire’s recent report at a commissioners’ meeting assured the board, “At no time is the 911 system in jeopardy. No calls will be dropped.”
The county commissioners, however, received contrary information at the recent county level commissioners/ emergency services retreat.
|PCO-2 Colleen Carpenter and Dispatcher-1 |
Tom Kidwell at their stations in the Police &
Emergency Communications centers.
McGuire went on to promise that if the center were in jeopardy, his dispatchers would delay making dispatch calls in favor of answering 911 calls. Delaying dispatch calls, however, means that emergency service personnel will take longer to get to the scene of a problem.
The County call center is divided into two sections, Police Communications and Emergency Services Communications. The first half handles requests for police assistance and dispatches police officers. The other half handles emergency 911 calls and dispatches Fire and Emergency Medical Services.
From July 2006 to June 2007 the Emergency Communications portion of the call center handled 281,432 calls. That number includes 911 calls as well as “administration” calls from emergency services personnel and other agency calls. That works out to nearly two incoming calls per minute. That doesn’t take into account outgoing dispatch calls. Charles County has the 11th largest population in Maryland, but handled the 6th largest volume of 911 calls.
Within the past few weeks, the Police Communications half has recently experienced record numbers of daily calls. Recent volume has hovered around 700 incoming service requests daily. If that continues, their annual total should be around 255,500 calls.
Because both call centers share the same space and technology, they already cover for one another during frantic call periods. Every call is taken seriously, so they can last anywhere from 30 seconds (to take down information and discover it’s a situation they’re already handling) to several hours (on the line with someone trapped and awaiting rescue).
Emergency Communications employs just 16 staff members; of which, due to leave and illness, only 12 are on the weekly schedule. They are supposed to work two 12-hour daytime shifts, have four days off and then two 12-hour night shifts. However, staff members report that the norm is two day shifts, two days off, one additional shift, one day off, then two night shifts. Only three dispatchers staff Emergency Communications at a time. Police Communications is better staffed, but not by much.
Police Communications supervisor Debbie Deakins, Emergency Communications dispatcher 1 Tom Kidwell and PCO-2 Colleen Carpenter all agree that it takes a special sort of person to work in that environment. Shifts are long and often frantic. Breaks of any sort are rare, even bathroom breaks. They almost never get to eat a meal before it cools off, and meals are always eaten at their workstations.
McGuire does, however, seem to recognize the need for more personnel at the call center. He asked the Board of Commissioners for their blessing as he puts together a task force to study the needs of the center and ways to improve it. He promised to report on the task force’s findings with 45 days.
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