HARRISVILLE - County residents will get a chance Saturday to visit the renovated 911 dispatch center at the Alcona County Sheriff's Office. That way, they will know how the $3 monthly surcharge they pay for landlines and cellphones is used, Alcona County 911 Director Jeff Brackett said Wednesday.
From those funds, the county has invested more than $80,000 in a new Telex radio system and other equipment, and $30,000 in special furnishings and installation over a two-year period to make the facility more efficient, he said. The rest of the money from the surcharge is used to pay his salary and those of five full-time and four part-time dispatchers.
Computer-aided dispatch and mapping systems were installed in 2012, and allow dispatchers to check several monitors to locate where a problem has been reported. Additional law enforcement data bases and radios also were installed that year, followed by new dispatch desks and monitors in 2013. A new radio console interface system also was purchased.
Other items, such as a kitchenette, paint and carpet tiles were installed to improve the work environment for dispatchers. Once they start their eight-hour shift, they cannot leave the center, Brackett said.
"They eat their meals here," he said. "They have their coffee here. They don't go home for lunch."
They also must stay upbeat under pressure.
"It can go from absolute quiet to bedlam in a second," said Brackett, who worked in public safety for 25 years.
"Everyone who calls here has a problem, and often it can be a massive problem," Brackett said. "Someone has just witnessed something tragic. So having a calm, compassionate voice at the other end is going to help elicit more information we need to send them help."
When a 911 call comes in, a siren-like ring lets the dispatcher know the vital nature of the contact. Sitting in front of six screens, the dispatcher can weigh the situation and then notify a host of agencies, if necessary, including deputies, the State Police, township fire departments, ambulance services, the U.S. Forest Service, even the road commission, if necessary, Brackett said.
One computer connects the dispatcher instantly to criminal records and license plate data - information not available to the public. However, during the tour, those monitors will be dark, he said.
Dispatchers also keep an eye on the jail, and open and close doors when requested to do so by jailers, he said.
With the proliferation of cellphones, calls into the 911 center have increased dramatically in Alcona County as well as elsewhere in the nation, he said. So a single car accident on a highway can generate at least 15 calls from concerned motorists and other passersby.
"Before, you had to stop at a payphone and find a dime," he said. But with cellphones, "people feel that it's their obligation to pass on the information."
Although this means more work for dispatchers, people also call in when they spot a motorist weaving on the road or spot other hazards, he said.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.