Claremore Daily Progress

February 7, 2014

E911 Center experiences growing pains

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE — The Rogers County E911 Center is dealing with growing pains with new equipment and staffing levels.

The E911 Trust Authority met Thursday to discuss Director Janet Hamilton’s staffing concerns and the impact on the agency’s finances.

Currently, the center has two or three dispatchers on a shift. Many of the employees work 12-hour shifts. Vacation, compensation time and family medical leave time has increased the amount of time off employees are earning, according to Hamilton.

At least three of the 13 dispatchers have already earned more than 100 hours of compensation time off. The time is earned by working overtime; however, it is paid back to employees with time off instead of extra earnings in their paycheck, according to Hamilton.

The county has a policy to ensure employees are compensated for their overtime hours.

However, the challenge is allowing workers to take days of work without forcing other employees to work overtime to cover the shift, according to Hamilton.

The issue for the center is financing the employees. Rogers County currently provides funding for the staff with each employee costing about $56,000 annually including benefits.

The center is not generating enough revenue to operate independently, according to Hamilton.

The trust members questioned how more employees are necessary since the center has not started handling more agencies since moving in January.

The center dispatches for the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office, Verdigris Fire and Police Departments.

“In order to bring in more people to the center, we will need more staff,” Hamilton said.

The dispatchers are assigned to cover police, fire or emergency management services, according to Hamilton.

Another problem for the center is crossing over of radio traffic and call taking by dispatchers.

Emergency responders are currently facing an issue with a dispatcher communicating with multiple agencies simultaneously causing confusion.

The departments are voicing their concerns that dispatchers are unable to follow a single event.

For example, when dispatching fire emergencies two or more dispatchers are trying to communicate with crews. Sometimes dispatchers inform emergency crews in the field mutual aid has been dispatched to the scene, when the call has not been made.

This creates a lack of consistent information for emergency workers in the field, according to Verdigris Fire Chief Mike Shaffer.

When communication errors occur through dispatch it affects the decisions made on the scene, which can be a life or death matter, according to Shaffer.

In this example, Shaffer said the end result was the same and communication issues did not impact the outcome of the emergency.

Several of the trust members voiced their concern claiming dispatchers should be assigned a task and stick with it throughout their shift.

The system was not set up for a dispatcher to flip-flop from one set of radio traffic to another, according to Shaffer.

Shaffer is concerned if the issue is not corrected, it could create serious safety concerns.

Shaffer also said despite the isolated issues the center’s dispatchers have been doing a great job overall.

The discussion raised an issue with scheduling and training not staffing levels.

The trust authority tabled the discussion to allow Hamilton time to gather more data to help determine appropriate action and investigate the problems.

The trustees said they are determined to make sure the center resolves the growing pains and improves services.