Last night we spent an hour in the 911 dispatch center and an hour touring the jail. Both were very exciting and scary for different reasons.
I was a child when Ed Sullivan's show aired, but I remember the plate spinners who kept 20 plates spinning on thin wooden dowels three feet off the table tops. Watching them always left me breathless. That's how I felt two minutes after we arrived at the 911 Dispatch Center.
Our's is a 911 dispatch that serves a county that is 95 miles from end to end. There are multiple policing jursdictions from village constable up to state patrol. The fire and EMS services also have overlapping jursdictions. Some even jump county borders because they have better response times than the neighboring counties.
There were 6 operators working last night. Two handled the large metro area's 911, one handled 911 calls for the second largest metro area, and one handled deputy calls for squads operating outside that area. and the last two handled police officer communications for squads operating in the city.
The 911 operators were hired after a long screening process and 14 weeks of training. They work 12 to 16 hour shifts of four days-on, two-off; five days-on, two-off that allow them a weekend off once every three months.
Their work stations are a kidney shaped tables that change height with the touch of a button. This allows them to stand and move back and forth in the room, but while we were there they rarely move outside of the glow of their monitor screens.
The screen configuration was left to right; one large screen of rectangles representing automated pagers. Dispatchers could click and send an automated request for service to on-call volunteer fire or ems, the second was a layered location screen that could be the whole county, or with the click of the mouse, could go to satilite imagery to compliment GPS coordinates generated by the units that had computers. The third screen was a standard communication screen for translating map coordinates into addresses and worked the same way in reverse. That screen was also used for reading their data banks. They could immediately respond to officers in the field who needed more information on traffice stops, to share data about the number and kinds of calls from any one location, or to share updates on road conditions, hydrant locations, etc. The last screen showed the current call history for the night, who had what call, and what was the status of the response to that call.
Piled in the limited space beside the key boards and under the monitors were rolls of laminated maps. These old-school tools included maps for undeveloped or newly developed corners of the county, and border counties' info (to assist officers if they were responding to a call for mututal aid).
The burnout rate is high. Our host will retire this year with the dubious distinction of being the first dispatch employee to retire without a medical disability. He is a self-procalimed fitness nut who takes full advantage of the Employee Assistance crisis counseling as needed. He also admits to calling back families to check on the status of a victim days or weeks after an incident, just to get some closure.
I'll save the jail narative for later.