Editor's note: This is the first of a series of stories examining effects of the new centralized dispatch center.
The Saline County E911 Dispatch Center has been operational for two full months as of Thursday, April 15, and with that operation comes questions about how the center has changed operations of emergency responders throughout the county.
Marshall Police Department
Marshall Police Department's dispatching staff was not reduced before or after the center went live, said Chief Mike Donnell, but he hopes the department will be able to make such reductions in the future.
Currently, the department has two dispatchers on staff during mornings and evenings, and one dispatcher present during overnight shifts.
But, "No matter what, we have to have someone in there 24" hours a day, seven days a week, said Donnell. "You can't completely get rid of your civilian staff. ... There's too much that goes on."
His goal, he said, is to have just one dispatcher in at all times, which will reduce the department's dispatching staff by 40 percent.
This reduction will be aided by installation of a new phone system integrating the dispatch center's phone lines with MPD's lines, he said.
Duties of MPD dispatchers, said Donnell, include answering phones, entering tickets, dispatching calls for service, dealing with walk-in complaints, bonding out arrested individuals and filling out reports that do not fall under the umbrella of Uniform Crime Reports, in addition to providing MULES information to officers during non-emergency situations.
During emergency situations involving multiple agencies, Marshall police remain in contact with E911 telecommunicators, but during any situation of which only MPD is notified that involves only MPD, police only communicate with MPD dispatchers, Donnell said.
Saline County Sheriff's Department
The Saline County Sheriff's Department's communications staff was not reduced due to the E911 center's operation, said Sheriff Wally George, and he has no plans to reduce the number of communications staff members from its current level of two per shift.
The primary reason for this, he said, is the fact that the department's communications staff also oversees a great deal of activity in the building's jail, which tends to house between 48 and 50 inmates at a time. Communications staff view visitors to the jail via cameras as they move around inside, remotely unlocking doors as needed, and assume responsibility for the jail division officers.
Among the other responsibilities of communications staff at the sheriff's department are writing bonds; taking applications for licenses to carry concealed weapons or to transport hazardous material; overseeing sex offender registration, which must be re-entered every 90 days; and validating warrants each month, which takes between four and five days of solid work, George said.
So, he said, the E911 center's activity has little effect on the operations at the sheriff's department, but his deputies do now report to 911 dispatchers to tell of their current locations and activities.
Of emergency calls directly to the sheriff's department, George said, "Rarely do we get one."
Sweet Springs Police Department
The Sweet Springs Police Department previously employed four dispatchers at a cost of $54,000 per year, said Police Chief Richard Downing. Those dispatchers stayed on staff for 30 days after the E911 center went live, he said, which helped with the transition. The transition "hasn't been easy," Downing said. "We're still adjusting every day."
One of the department's former dispatchers now works at the E911 center, but others have not yet found dispatching work elsewhere, said Downing.
The funds saved by not employing dispatchers went back into the Sweet Springs government's general fund, Downing said, but $17,000 came back to the police department, which will go toward the purchase of a new police vehicle. The fact that Sweet Springs police now have someone to take calls 24 hours a day is beneficial to the department and the city's citizens, said Downing.
But, he added, citizens knew the names of the departments' dispatchers, so the center has somewhat "taken the personal part out of it."
Slater Police Department
Slater Police Department, with five dispatchers, had coverage 24 hours per day, said Chief Keith Wright. Those dispatchers remained employed at Wright's department for one week after the E911 center became active.
Slater's city government previously spent $91,000 annually to employ dispatching staff for SPD, said Assistant City Administrator Gene Griffith. That amount has now been reduced to approximately $22,000 to employ one office staff member, who was a formerly a dispatcher for the police department.
Now, because there are no individuals besides officers in the police department between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m., the department has installed a phone on-site that connects directly to the E911 center, and plans to install four cameras around the department building.
Saline County E911 Dispatch Center
No changes have been made so far regarding the number of dispatchers on shift at the Saline County E911 Dispatch Center, said center Director Stacie Smith.
There are three dispatchers per 12-hour shift, she said. Once the center has been operational for an additional two or three months, she will look at the call volumes to find the peak call times, and redistribute dispatchers accordingly.
Telecommunicators came from a variety of areas, but of the 15 telecommunicators employed, seven were previously employed as dispatchers for emergency response departments around Saline County. Payroll expenses for the center in January amounted to $40,540.43, which includes the salaries of Smith and two others who are not telecommunicators.
In addition to answering requests for Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System information from police departments without dispatchers, E911 telecommunicators also cover radio traffic and are trained to use Pro Q&A software to give directions to callers involved in or witnessing a medical emergency, said Smith.
E911 Telecommunicators also check MULES records for Marshall police officers and Saline County Sheriff's deputies when dispatchers for those departments are busy, she added. For emergencies called in to the E911 dispatch center, responding units remain in contact with the E911 telecommunicators, Smith said.
Benefits the E911 dispatch center has brought, said Smith, include the information delivered by telecommunicators, especially medical information, and the center's use of mapping systems, which telecommunicators can use to direct responders to the scene of an incident while keeping track of such things as closed roads or bridges.
Although cell phone carriers have until Aug. 15, 2010, to complete work allowing telecommunicators to see the exact location of a cell phone during a call, Smith said "several carriers are moving along" to that end, and she doubts it will take until August for all carriers to comply.
However, she added, any cell phone users whose 911 calls are directed somewhere besides the Saline County Dispatch Center should call the center at 660-831-1911 and note the cell phone carrier used and the location from which the call was made to help in efforts to end any such difficulties.