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Honoring The Calm Voices That Answer The Call For Help

By Staff | Apr 10, 2012

You hope you never have to make such a call, but when you’re scared, hurt, or need help fast, dialing 9-1-1 will bring someone to your aid. The first voice you hear will be the one you remember for their calm professionalism in dealing with your emergency.

The week of April 8-14 is observed across the United States as National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, and local authorities are honoring local public safety communications operators for their dedication and professionalism. The national observance is designed to recognize the individuals who answer routine calls for information or stressful 9-1-1 calls for help in emergencies.

The Palo Alto County Communications Center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year by three full-time and four part-time trained communications specialists. Becky Goeders, Sheryl Chamberlain and Rex Mulholland are the public’s first contact with the Public Safety Communications system in Palo Alto County. Part-time specialists include Staci Girres, Dawn Moore, Lena Peters and Valerie Paulson, along with “Standby” specialists Jane Soenen and Linda Sathoff.

When a citizen dials 9-1-1 for emergency assistance of any type, one of these highly trained individuals will answer the phone and dispatch 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 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 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.

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.

There is one communications specialist on duty per shift, making multi-tasking a key part of their job.

Law enforcement officers very often refer to communications specialists and their radios as an officer’s most valuable tool in the performance of their duties. The calm, reassuring voice of the dispatcher over the radio during a stressful situation lends support to the officer in the field, and can also calm a panicked citizen over the phone. The communications specialist is the person who is never seen and seldom recognized or thanked for their efforts, but that individual 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 operators for their dedication to duty and professionalism day in and day out.