GLASGOW – Technology is changing for emergency telecommunications – or dispatching, as most know it – just as it is for the rest of the world, but not necessarily at the same rate everywhere.
Dispatch centers are also facing other changes – such as shifting funding sources.
Although the Department of Criminal Justice Training administers the necessary training for dispatchers, and the Kentucky Emergency Number Association has a conference with some types of training, directors of 911 facilities in Kentucky don’t have a venue through which they can convene, compare notes and share ideas about best practices, policies and procedures and other management facets, said Chris Freeman, director of Barren-Metcalfe Emergency Communications Center.
He initiated what he called the 911 Summit: For 911 by 911, which took place at the Louie B. Nunn Lodge in Barren River Lake State Resort Park all day Thursday and the first part of Friday.
“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” he told the crowd gathered in the Highland Room at the lodge.
“We wound up with about 85 or 90 folks representing about 50 agencies in the state,” said Freeman who stated multiple times that he was pleased with the turnout.
Thursday’s agenda included sessions with panel discussions on hiring and retention; mission statements, policy and procedures; technology; training and reclassification. Although not as many could stay for Friday’s offerings, they included a panel on funding models, a discussion on the development of and training for an emergency response team, and introductory information about SWATTING, which is when a hoax call is made to report a serious distress situation that could result in a special police tactical response to a location where actually no has done anything wrong but the potential for needless injuries is great.
Candy Wilson, assistant director of the dispatch center in Stanford, said she was very glad she came and hopes to do it again next year. She said she learned a lot – different hiring practices that some of the agencies have, that her center is not alone with its funding issues, different aspects of training and looking outside what’s currently available for avenues for those in leadership roles, and the need for more in-depth technology training – “because it’s changing every day.”
Mark Doepel, director of Union County 911, said the summit was a valuable experience for him.
“We’re trying to move forward on our budgeting and our financing, and I got a lot of information,” he said.
He said good topics were raised, and he made some new connections and contacts he believes will be helpful.
“I took a lot out of it,” Doepel said.
One of the panel participants was Ty Wooten, director of education for the National Emergency Number Association, who said he had seen Freeman at one of NENA’s conferences offered to help with the event to provide a wider perspective from outside the commonwealth.
He was on the mission statements and policies panel, which discussed how important those two elements are and how to write them correctly, and the technology panel, which discussed what Next Generation 911 is. He elaborated for the Glasgow Daily Times that the primary gist of that change is from analog to digital, computerized and Internet protocol technologies to provide access for the public to the 911 center from various devices and also for the dispatchers to the resources they need.
“This morning, the big topic was how to pay for 911,” Freeman said.
Traditionally, the bulk of 911 functions has been funded by surcharges on landline telephone bills and then a similar fee on cellular phone lines. The number who use landline phones is decreasing as cell phone use is increasing, but individual counties determine the landline 911 fees and could raise them as needed, while the Federal Communications Commission determines the one on cell accounts and has shown no interested in increasing those to compensate.
“We can’t keep doing the same thing we’re doing ...,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to find a creative, different way to pay.”
Some counties already have gotten “creative” with their funding sources, implementing a once-a-year land parcel tax, of which he said he’s not a big proponent, although when they did that, they removed the charge from the landline phone bills. Other counties add a fee to their water bills, he said, and they’ve had no need for subsidization since implementing that.
After several upgrades that are in the works now, barring a disastrous occurrence, the Glasgow center is not expected have any major expenditures for equipment for possibly as long as 20 to 25 years, Freeman said, so for now, the funding is OK here, but he wants to have options in the back of his mind.
Going forward with the summit, Freeman said he would like to explore the possibility of meeting the criteria for personnel to be able to get continuing education credits. He asked the attendees to complete a survey to provide feedback on what they would like to see at meetings like this in the future.