If you ask any peace officer or emergency responder what one of their most important tools might be, the answer will be quick the dispatcher on the other end of the radio.
For the countless voices behind the microphones, who remain calm in times of extreme stress and get help to those in need, the week of April 14-20 is once again being recognized as National Public Safety Telecommunications Week across the United States. Locally, the Palo Alto County Sheriff's Office, Emmetsburg Police Department, Palo Alto County Emergency Management, Palo Alto County Conservation Board and all emergency responders from ambulance services and fire departments throughout the county are paying tribute to the professional public safety communications operators for their dedication and professionalism as they serve the citizens of Palo Alto County.
The Palo Alto County Communications Center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year by fully state and nationally certified, trained professionals. Becky Goeders, Sheryl Chamberlain and Dawn Moore, are the full-time Communications Specialists along with part-time operators Mary Jane Soenen, Staci Girres, Jarrod Fischer, Lena Peters, Crystal Sawvell and Jessica Sinning. These operators are the public's first contact with the Public Safety Communications system in Palo Alto County. When a citizen dials 9-1-1 for emergency assistance of any type, one of these individuals will answer the phone and notify the appropriate responding agency, all while gathering as much information about the situation as is possible from the caller.
THE?FIRST?LINK - Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Dispatch Operator Becky Goeders handles a call in the county Communications Center. The center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by trained dispatch operators who represent the first link in the Public Safety chain. The week of April 14-20 is National Telecommunications Week. -- Dan Voigt photo
Each of the Palo Alto County Hospital's four Ambulance services, based in West Bend, Ruthven, Graettinger and Emmetsburg, as well as the First Responder units in Mallard and Ayrshire are dispatched through the Communications Center. The Fire Departments in Emmetsburg, Cylinder, Rodman, West Bend, Mallard, Ayrshire, Ruthven and Graettinger are also dispatched from the Communications Center. All law enforcement, including the Emmetsburg and West Bend Police Departments, along with the Palo Alto County Sheriff's Office, receive dispatch information from the Communications Center Operators, along with Palo Alto County Emergency Management.
The local Communications Center also has contact with the Iowa State Patrol, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Palo Alto County Secondary Road Department and other neighboring counties as well.
While, the primary duty of a telecommunications operator is to answer calls for service and assistance, the operator also operates the county's network of storm warning sirens and alerting systems, as well as operating the local access terminal to the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, a computer network that connects law enforcement agencies across North America as well as the world. Using this network, local operators can check a drivers' license record in any state, or check for warrants on any individual stopped by local officers.
When emergency calls are received at the Palo Alto County Communications Center, the operator on duty determines what type of assistance is needed: fire department, emergency medical services or law enforcement officers. The operator attempts to obtain as much information as they can from the caller, including accurate directions or an address; the number and type of injuries or any other pertinent information, and then determines the initial level of response from the appropriate agency.
Thankfully, not every call the Communications Center receives is an emergency. Dispatch officers often field inquiries on road and weather conditions, take reports of debris in a roadway, livestock loose near a road, or answer questions on where drivers' license examiners are located on a given day.
The local operators have to be able to access volumes of information to handle these calls as well as any emergency calls.
All too often the umbrella of Public Safety can unintentionally overlook that first link in the public safety chain the dispatcher that answers the initial phone call for assistance.
That voice over the phone line can calm a panicked citizen or frightened child, all while sending help. The communications operator is the person whom is never seen and all too often never given the proper appreciation for their efforts, but is without a doubt the heart of the public safety profession.