County Central Dispatch center changing with the times

Dispatcher Julie Zajac works at one of the center’s Computer Aided Dispatch desks.

MANISTEE TWP. — The 21-year-old Manistee County central dispatch center has seen many technological improvements over the years, but some things never change. Jim Espvik, the center’s director, recently took the time to sit down with the News Advocate to review the center’s 20-plus year history.

“It has come a long ways, technology-wise, it has come leaps and bounds,” he said. “Twenty years ago there wasn’t a whole lot of cell phones, so we have moved into the cell phone and texting generation.”

Before 1992, callers could alert public safety personnel of an emergency by calling the appropriate agency involved. If a crime happened in the City of Manistee, a caller would have to dial the city’s police department. If a caller had a problem in the county, they could call the sheriff’s department, and so on. That all changed with the introduction of the central dispatch center in 1992.

“They combined it and made a central dispatch,” Espvik said. “Which means one call comes into this central location and we dispatch the appropriate agency (police, fire, EMS).

“We have different locations in the county that have different services available. For instance, in Copemish, they have a fire department but they don’t have a rescue squad. So, when we have a medical run up there, we have to call Benzie County and get one of their rescue squads to come into the county and run the rescue.”

Central dispatch opened in 1992 with “minimal radio equipment” in the former jail and sheriff’s office, now the county courthouse, on Maple Street until 1998. When the new sheriff’s office was built, the dispatch center moved there for a more permanent home, making room for the many changes and technology to come.

When Espvik first started dispatching, the process was to write down the caller and emergency information then plug it back into a computer database manually. Now, each call is saved automatically by computers, allowing the operator to run license plate checks, check address history (who was dispatched to an address and why), and monitor the map of active calls.

Manistee County Central Dispatch director Jim Espvik describes the equipment used on the job.

Even though much of the job is now automated, Espvik said there is still a human element to the work.

“You have to be a certain type of person to be a dispatcher,” he said. “You have to be in control of the situation. People call you and they are hysterical, they are screaming on the phone. We have to calm that situation down so we can get the information to get them the help they need. You have to be able to control the situation and you have to be compassionate.”

In addition to being compassionate, dispatchers must move quickly from call to call, often leaving them without closure.

“It’s like watching a movie and then getting up and walking out of the theatre half way through so you don’t know how it ends,” he said. “You’re always wondering ‘How did that movie ever end? Did they get the bad guy? Was the baby born OK?’ They don’t have any closure on anything, and that’s difficult. It leaves you hanging.”

There are ten dispatchers who work at the center, and they dispatch a total of 30,000 calls a year. Dispatchers must take continual training to be certified and work 12-hour shifts at the office, often through the night.

Since the inception of the center, the technological changes have been drastic. From the implementation of Computer Aided Dispatch systems in 2001 — which, in essence, are four side-by-side monitors displaying topographic maps, license plate information, and caller information — to mobile data terminals inside of police cars displaying similar information. All of it designed to help make public safety work more efficient and safe.

“We have moved into the computer age,” Espvik said. “All these things we are doing is to make people safer, to protect the community, environment, and property. All of that is the bottom line.”

Espvik said he doesn’t know what technology the center will be using in 20 years, but the personnel will continually be needed.

“It’s hard to imagine,” he said. “(But) there still has to be someone here to answer the call. When someone has an issue they have to be able to call, and how (dispatchers) answer the call is where the changes are going to be.”

 

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Posted by Eric Sagonowsky

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