MOUNT VERNON — At its Wednesday afternoon meeting, the Knox County 9-1-1 Board briefly discussed the status of the Computer Assisted Dispatch System, which is now in its implementation stage.
Brian Hess, interim EMA director and 9-1-1 coordinator, said a project manager for Knox County has been named by Emergitech, and a project team comprised of representatives from county agencies is being put together.
Hess provided reports which list information about the number of dispatch calls answered at the city and county 9-1-1 dispatch center.
Board member Shawn Christy, chief of the Mount Vernon Fire Department, asked Hess to develop a report with comprehensive information about cell phone calls which come into the centers. In addition to the number of calls which come in by cell phone, Christy said he would also like to know how many of those calls must then be transferred to another dispatch center.
Mount Vernon Mayor and board member Richard Mavis asked why answer times for the city dispatch center seemed to be longer than the county. Mount Vernon Police Chief Mike Merrilees, who is the on-site supervisor at the city dispatch center, wondered whether a temporary phone system problem could have affected the overall average answer time. He said he would look at the calls in question.
Hess asked board members if it would be worth considering a change in uniforms for the dispatchers to a more professional looking uniform. Dispatchers came into the meeting for a moment to show board members the black pants and sweat shirts and golf shirts they currently wear.
Board members said Hess could look into the possibilities available for uniforms. Board member and Knox County Sheriff David Barber cautioned that uniforms cannot appear to resemble law enforcement uniforms, because members of the public need to realize when they are talking to a civilian versus a law enforcement officer.
College Township Trustee Doug McLarnan observed the meeting as a member of the public. McLarnan recently served on the 9-1-1 Planning Committee Technical Advisory Board, and said he had questions about the organization of the 9-1-1 board. He wondered if an executive committee or personnel committee added to the structure may help the board conduct business more efficiently.
Barber told McLarnan the board originally had a personnel committee, which consisted of himself, the MVPD chief, the 9-1-1 coordinator and one other board member. Barber said he felt hiring and personnel procedures would benefit from reorganizing such a committee.
Christy said he felt the coordinator should be ultimately in charge of all hiring and personnel decisions, answering directly to the board.
Questions about the chain of command who supervises dispatchers were raised by board members.
Christy said the number of supervisors dispatchers must answer to can be confusing and inefficient. He and other board members asked who is ultimately in charge of dispatch personnel issues.
McLarnan asked whether a different supervisory system would affect the high rate of turnover affecting dispatchers.
Merrilees and Barber both said the current system in which Barber serves as the on-site supervisor at the county, and Merrilees supervises at the city, are working well. Both designate officers to be in charge when they are absent.
Barber said the high rate of turnover among dispatchers is due to the stress and demands of the job, and affects dispatchers across the country. He and Merrilees said dispatchers have not left because of supervisors.
Mavis said he has felt ever since the dispatch centers were organized that a dispatcher should be designated as a supervisor for each shift.
“Somebody has to be in charge,” he said. “This is an emergency center with no one in charge for two shifts.”
Mavis said his concern was for the two shifts each day when Barber and Merrilees were not at the centers.
Christy said he thought communication and training would flow better through a chain of command with designated supervisors.
Merrilees said no issues or problems have arisen out of the current system. Barber said because the LEADS terminals at the dispatch centers must be overseen by law enforcement, law enforcement needed to remain in the supervisory role.
Several board members said that because the board is ultimately in charge of all 9-1-1 issues, how the chain of command works ultimately ends with the board as the final authority.
Board chairwoman Teresa Bemiller suggested tabling the discussion until the next meeting, June 3, after a permanent 9-1-1 coordinator is named.