By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
COVID-19 shines light on 911’s importance
Pandemic showcases need for reliable communications
911 week pic
The Barton County Commission Monday morning approved a National Public Safety Communications Officers Week proclamation.

The Barton County Commission Monday morning approved a National Public Safety Communications Officers Week proclamation “in honor of the men and women whose diligence and professionalism keep our communities and citizens safe.” Never has this been more in focus than during this COVID-19 pandemic, 911 Director Dena Popp said.

“This year, more than any other in recent history, it is vital that all agencies come together and recognize the benefit of having a calm, clear voice that collects relevant data and dispatches appropriate first responders,” she said.  

The number of calls 911 has received has decreased during the pandemic, she said. “It does seem that we have a lot more downtime right now.”

But, dispatchers are asking some additional questions because of COVID-19. “Those questions are just to tell the ambulance and EMTs what to expect,” Popp said. 

“They’re for those that we’re dispatching out to try to protect them make sure they’re have the proper equipment” like gloves, masks and other protective gear, she said. “This is so they know going in that there is a suspected case, or something what could end up being a suspected case.”

“I appreciate the crew people over there because I did that job for seven years when I first started with the Great Bend Police Department,” said Commissioner Jim Daily, who is a former sheriff and long-time law enforcement officer. “It is a thankless job because you sit over there, 24 hours a day, no one sees you.”

A difficult job

This is a job that can be very challenging at times, she said. “Yet dispatchers are proud to serve the profession despite rarely being told, good job or thank you.” 

Popp said 911 lines are staffed by trained public safety communications officers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “This week brings honor pride celebration and publicity to the unsung heroes that serve their communities. Today I’m here to ask the commissioners to join me in thanking the nine one dispatchers for the job they do their dedication and sacrifices.”

With COVID-19, this need has been brought to the fore. “The world has seen, with the global pandemic, that having a single point of contact to direct emergency service personnel is essential to the safety and well-being of our communities,” she said. 

Recently during this pandemic, her office received two calls from the public commending staff for a job well done, as well as an email from a nurse in another state for the Barton County center going above and beyond their normal duties, she said.

Modern technological improvements, such as Next Generation 911 which is based on internet rather than telephone technology, has improved service. It allows 911 to access voice, video, text and data applications that are practical for use during medical emergencies, reports of fire, criminal activity, severe weather and other critical events, Popp said. 

The capabilities that improve service to individuals, homes and businesses also improve the delivery of information, tracking and security measures used by emergency services, she said. 

Radio transmissions from first responders to callers reporting an emergency, dispatchers are the lifeline for officers and other emergency personnel, she said. “Not everyone has the capability to be an emergency dispatcher, it takes a great deal of multitasking, compassion, patience, and the ability to work long shifts nights and weekends, and even holidays at times. For the call loads very distressed lives varies.” 

National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week was first conceived by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County, Calif., Sheriff’s Office in 1981 and was quickly adopted in Virginia and North Carolina. By the 1990s, the national association of Public-Safety Communications Officials convinced Congress of the need for a formal proclamation.

In 1994, National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week was formally recognized and is celebrated each year during the second full week of April to coincide with National 911 Education Month.

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:

• Approved a National Public Safety Communications Officers Week proclamation. 

• Approved the engineering and mapping software license subscriptions and renewals. 

The Mapping Office uses Autodesk, which is essentially design and drafting software, and the county engineer will begin using it for some functions, said Bj Wooding, county cartograper. The Autodesk software licenses are now up for renewal. 

The county will change from a maintenance agreement to a subscription service to provide additional savings. The cost for three years for the two licenses is $3,445.24.  

• Heard a COVID-19 update from county Health Officer Karen Winkelman.