Emergency dispatch center upgrades
Earlier this year, the Oneida County emergency dispatch center upgraded its phone system, as an early step in efforts to achieve what officials call a “next-generation 911 dispatch center.”
This particular upgrade involved switching from an analog phone system to digital, but it is just one stage in a long line of upgrades.
In May 2011, the department received a similar upgrade to their mapping system.
Though next-gen technology is off in the center’s future, officials are already looking ahead to what it could entail.
Kenneth Kortenhof, emergency management director, speculated on the possibilites of video submissions to the dispatch center, emergency texting and many other exciting possibilites.
“We know we’re going to have to go to it eventually,” Kortenhof said. “Really the parameters of next-generation 911 haven’t been established yet, so once we get some direction… then we would move toward that.”
Mary Goeldner, who has been working as an Oneida County dispatcher for around 18 years, said the possibilities of texting are something she is looking forward to.
“The capability to see texts, capability to respond to texts,” Goeldner said. “Unfortunately we just don’t have that capability right now. And it is definitely the wave, texting. We have to get caught up with that.”
Kortenhof estimated that the dispatchers take in approximately 25,000 calls a year.
“And that’s calls for services, where the dispatcher would take in a call from the public, and then send a unit, whether it be an ambulance or the fire department or police department out to assist,” Kortenhof said.
This most recent change, the digital phone system, is designed to help dispatchers be more efficient in answering calls and dispatching.
“You can look at a dispatch center as an answering point for the public to call in, and then a dispatch point for us to dispatch the proper unit to help the public,” Kortenhof said. “So there’s really two big pieces to the dispatch center, the incoming and the outgoing.”
In the old system, the dispatchers would have to handle two separate lines, a digital headset for the police radio and a handset for the public line, making it hard to juggle different calls.
“It’s wonderful,” Goeldner said. “We are able to utilize both the telephone and the radio with the same headset. If I have information that I need to get to my officers… the person I’ve got on the line cannot hear what I’m saying, which helps a lot.”
There are many situations where it can be dangerous for an at-risk citizen to hear the information being given out to dispatched units, which is why this new ability is such a blessing.
Now all the calls, whether incoming or outgoing, are channeled through a Computer-Aided Dispatch, or CAD, system.
“It’s just must more efficient for us this way than it was having the handset. It’s working out really well, I think, for everyone,” Goeldner said. “This works out so much better—for the officers, for their safety, and for us.”
With the prevalance of cell phones and other technological changes, those in the department say it’s more important than ever to have the right capabilities.
“Technology changes, I would say, almost daily,” Kortenhof said. “There’s all kinds of things that are changing, that we have to keep up on. And when that stuff becomes available, that’s when we have to incorporate it.”
Another change that Goeldner has seen in her 18 years at dispatch is the advancement of mapping technologies. When she started, Goeldner said they found people who were in trouble by consulting paper maps pinned to boards in the office.
Today they have the technology to triangulate cell phones, and the process of locating someone on a map is automated.
“In our computer system, if someone calls 911 and they’ve gotten in a snowmobile accident, and they say ‘we just passed intersection #423,’ I put that number into the location on my computer-aided dispatch… it will actually bring up that location and pull it up on the map,” Goeldner said. “So that’s going to save lives.”
The CAD system also tracks all emergency units, whether police vehicles or ambulances, so dispatchers know exactly who is closest to the emergency and who is unavailable.
“Our people, the dispatchers, when something’s going on, they’re probably the most important people in the county,” Kortenhof said.
“I think primarily everybody is really pleased, and thankful, that the county was willing to provide the funds so that we could update ourselves, because it desperately was needed,” Goeldner said. “It makes us much more efficient, and I think it keeps the public and our officers safer.”