Polk observes National Public Safety Telecommunications Week

Published 5:25 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 8-14 is recognized as National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, and Polk County officials said they want to highlight the work done by the employees at the county’s communication center.
The Polk County 911 communications center is the answering point for all 911 calls in the county, including both home phones and cell phone callers in the county. The center also takes administrative calls for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Columbus, Saluda and Tryon police departments. The center is also the after-hours answering point for several public service agencies – for example, DSS, Home Health Care, the public works departments for Tryon and Columbus and NC-DOT, just to name a few.
The Polk County 911 communications center dispatches for the following agencies:
Polk County EMS
Polk County Rescue
Columbus Fire Department
Green Creek Fire Department
Mill Spring Fire Department
Saluda Fire Department
Sunny View Fire Department
Tryon Fire Department
Polk County Sheriff’s Office
Columbus Police Department
Tryon Police Department
Saluda Police Department
Dianne Rickman is the director of operations for the 911 communications center, which is run as a separate agency from all other county emergency services. The center is staffed by at least two telecommunicators 24 hours a day, seven days a week all year long, including all holidays. The telecommunicators are expected to be there for their entire 12-hour shift with only a few short breaks and to arrive in a timely manner in all inclement weather. They are sometimes asked to stay over during bad weather, such as snow storms, to ensure they will not have a problem returning for the shift the next day.
These telecommunicators are behind the scenes and are rarely given the credit they deserve, Polk officials said. They are the voice on the other end of the phone and they never respond to the emergencies. In most cases they do not know the outcome of calls.
When most citizens think of first reponders, they think of the medical personnel, firefighters and police officers who respond to the emergencies, but the telecommunicators who take the calls are really the first responders, Rickman said. It’s up to the telecommunicators to ask the correct questions to obtain as much information and relay that information to the emergency responders prior to arriving on the scene. The telecommunicators also stay on the phone with the callers and reassure them help is on the way and continue updating responders with further information.
“It can be a very stressful job and sometimes it can be very hard to keep up with staffing,” Rickman said.
The telecommunicators are trained in fire, EMS and law enforcement dispatching. They use state-of-the-art computer systems such as computer aided dispatch. They are trained in officer safety and they are in a sense the officer’s lifeline when the officer is out on patrol. They are trained in proper questioning techniques and trained to know what type of help to send.
The 911 center also allows schools to bring children in for class trips. This gives the children a chance to see what 911 is really for and why they might need to call for help one day. The center explains to the children that 911 is for emergencies only and should not be called to play on the phone. The staff emphasizes to both children and adults that every time a call is placed to 911 for a non-emergency, someone else’s real emergency might be delayed.
“Polk’s telecommunicators often don’t get the recognition they deserve,” Rickman said. “Just a simple thank you or pat on the back can make them feel like they’ve accomplished what they are there for, which is the safety of the citizens and all emergency responders for Polk County.”
– article submitted
by Dianne Rickman