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Telecommunications Week Honors Communications Specialists

By Staff | Apr 16, 2009

TELECOMMUNICATIONS WEEK – The communications specialists of the Palo Alto County Communications Center are being honored for their commitment to professionalism and duty serving the public during National Telecommunications Week, April 13-18. The communications specialists are, from left to right, Mary Jane Soenen, Sheryl Rehm, Beth Cochran, Becky Goeders, Allison Fuchs and Staci Girres. -- Dan Voigt photo

The term “Public Safety” is often mistakenly applied in a catchall sense, grouping firefighters, law enforcement officers and Emergency Medical Technicians together. However, there is one other very vital sector in the Public Safety aspect of society that is too often overlooked.

This week of April 13-18 is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, an observance designed to recognize and thank public safety communications operators for their dedication and professionalism. The national observance of Telecommunications Week is designed to recognize the individuals who answer routine calls for information or stressful 9-1-1 calls for help in emergencies, and provide the calming voice on the other end of a frantic telephone call for help.

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 Rehm, Allison Fuchs and Beth Cochran are the full-time Communications Specialists along with part-time operators Mary Jane Soenen and Staci Girres 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 contact the appropriate responding agency, while gathering as much information about the situation as is possible from the caller.

All four of the Palo Alto County Hospital Ambulance Units, 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 all 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.

Like their job title indicates, the primary duty of a telecommunications operator is to answer calls for service and assistance. However, dispatchers also operate the county’s network of storm warning sirens and alerting systems and operate 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 the computer network, local operators can check on drivers’ license records in any state, or check for warrants on any individual stopped by local officers.

When an emergency call is received at the Palo Alto County Communications Center, the operator on duty will determine 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, number and type of injuries or similar information, and then determines the initial level of response from the appropriate agency.

Not all calls received at the Communications Center are emergencies, as operators are often contacted regarding items such as debris in a roadway, livestock loose near a road, or 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 emergency traffic.

If you ask any law enforcement officer to identify one of his most-valuable tools in performing their job, they will identify the radio and the communications specialist in the dispatch center. The reassuring voice of the operator over the radio during a stressful situation has been called the “invisible partner” for officers on patrol. That voice over the phone line can also calm a panicked citizen or frightened child. The communications operator is the person who is never seen, never thanked for their efforts, but is without a doubt the most vital link in the public safety communications chain.

The staffs of the Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Office, Emmetsburg Police Department, West Bend Police Department and Palo Alto County Emergency Management Agency, along with the volunteer firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians and First Responders of Palo Alto County all wish to commend the Palo Alto County Communications Center Specialists for their dedication to duty and professionalism day in and day out.