911 Center Dispatchers Recognized During Special Week
Posted on Friday, May 24th, 2019
The “First” First Responders: Love County 911 Center dispatchers
gathered for a photograph and recognition from the Love County
E911 Board during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.
Pictured are (front row) Anna Diaz and Coordinator Becky
Watkins-Norman; (second row) Kerri Manning, Wendy Laughlin,
and Shelli Bengfort; (third row) Seth Crockett, Brandy Brawley,
and Zach Aston.
The calls come in around the clock at the small office at 102 S. Front Ave. in Marietta. Operators wearing gray and purple shirts listen to a litany of emergencies, asking questions, issuing commands, and typing notes on computer screens.
This is the center of 911 traffic for Love County. Twenty-four hours a day, operators speaking into headsets direct emergency responders to every community and roadway. They dispatch all of Love County’s public safety agencies, from the police and the sheriff’s deputies to the volunteer fire departments and EMS ambulance.
They also handle nonemergency calls, which come in at 276-5898. This is the recommended number to call for general inquiries or reports for law enforcement. Dispatchers relay the calls to the sheriff’s department or Thackerville or Marietta Police.
On 911 calls, the operators follow scripts that guide callers to assist patients while an ambulance is on the way. They calm callers who are experiencing their own health, fire, crime, or accident emergency. They help with radioed questions from fire and medical workers dispatched to accident scenes. Police officers and sheriff’s deputies radio their locations to keep the center, for safety reasons, administratively informed of their status.
In 2019, the Love County 911 Center is on pace to handle 36,000 total inbound and outbound calls, according to Love County 911 Coordinator Becky Watkins-Norman.
A sense of calm and purpose pervades the center, but dispatchers are human, too. “It takes a special person to succeed at this job,” Watkins said. “The training is strenuous. These men and women take calls from people having the worst day of their lives and they counsel and advise the caller while trying to get needed information to our responders at the same time. They are the ‘first’ first responders. They are helping first responders and the public stay safe.”
During National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week in April, the Love County E911 Board honored all eight dispatchers with gift baskets and service certificates. Recognized along with Watkins were Anna Diaz, Kerri Manning, Wendy Laughlin, Shelli Bengfort, Seth Crockett, Brandy Brawley, and Zach Aston.
Watkins is in her ninth year as coordinator. She helped launch the 911 center in 2010 after filling a similar role for numerous years at The Colony, TX. Like many communities, Love County operates under the enhanced 911 or E911, which provides on a dispatcher’s computer screen an approximate location and call back number, but cellphone users cannot text, send photos or transmit video.
Still, E911 is quite a step up from the old days when operators could only listen and they depended fully on the caller, including travelers, to know and state their location. E911 re-mapped and sometimes renamed and renumbered street addresses, and Watkins said some residents have yet to post their E911 address on their house. She recommends 4-inch high, reflective numbers to guide first responders through the neighborhood without delay.
Connie Barker, Mercy Health/Love County clinic director, has chaired the Love County E911 Board since it was established in 2010. Board members, all experienced health and public safety representatives, include David Bond, Dr. Tom O’Connor, Dusty Michael, Dustin Scott, Marty Grisham, and Mike Mays.
Barker had praise for the center staff and a request for the public: “These men and women do a terrific service for our community. They are not in the field and cannot see first-hand what is going on during an emergency. They can only relay the information given to them by a sometimes panicked caller. It’s a high pressure job thinking you may be the only thing standing between life and death. If callers have an emergency, please try to remain calm and give the best information and directions possible.”