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Communication Committee moving forward

March 25, 2009
The Crawford County Communications Committee last Wednesday evening took another step forward in its goal to improve communications between emergency responders, which includes EMS, fire departments, E-911 dispatchers, law enforcement and elected officials.

The meeting, the third since the committee's start-up, was held at Hillview Christian Church near Marengo and focused on policies and procedures already in place at the various agencies and ways to improve or even replace them.

Ray Saylor, chairman of the committee, insisted that the committee was not formed to dwell on just one agency or set of problems.

"Each agency is just one component," Saylor said. "This is not about just dispatch or EMS or anyone else. This is to ensure that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. And this committee is about the structure of communication. We're here to support you, to move forward, be proactive and to work as a team."

Richard White, E-911 supervisor and a committee member, submitted the operation policy and job descriptions of dispatchers to the committee and talked about flip cards the dispatchers use in a medical emergency.

"There is a (computer) program available that does the same thing," White said, "but it drops down answers on the computer screen immediately. There are also versions of the flip cards for fire and police departments, but we don't have those."

"If there's a software program available, that's good," Saylor said. "Did EMS look over the program? Is it a good system? My recommendation is that EMS and E-911 get together and be sure they're on the same page."

Emergency Management Agency Director Kent Barrow added the flip cards are used only as a guide.

"But we need more answers than the cards supply," EMS Supervisor Debra Wiseman said.

"But the cards are only a guide," White said.

Saylor went on to discuss training standards, saying "people learn differently and at a different pace," and training to improve typing skills could help dispatchers get information in quicker.

"They have been criticized so much, they're afraid of making mistakes," Saylor said. "We need to help build morale and develop baseline standards."

"Yes, the dispatchers have gotten too much criticism," Commissioner Larry Bye added. "If they feel good when they come to work in the morning, they certainly don't by the time they leave. They've been criticized by other agencies, elected officials and even the public. But we have to work together, even though we may not always agree."

"The morale is 100 percent better now," White responded.

"I was in Richard's shoes at one time," Barrow said of overseeing the county' dispatch office. "I'll never put those shoes on again."

White went on to describe a problem that E-911 is having keeping all the computers operating on the same time.

"We have 12 to 14 computer screens that are on different times — and this is the most critical, especially if we need to do a recall of a recorded call to check specifics or if we lose contact with a caller. The retrieval time is slow. We need a program to keep all of the screens on the same time. The second most critical thing is keeping all shifts consistent."

As the meeting went on, committee members voiced opinions and concerns that they felt needed to be addressed.

"I'm concerned that there is not a firefighter at this meeting," Bill Byrd said. (Saylor is a member of the Milltown Volunteer Fire Department.) "But we're proactive on anything that's good for Crawford County."

"We're here to help," Doug McLain, another committee member, confirmed. "We need to tell the dispatchers that. And we want everyone to get along."

"And we want to do everything we can to empower them to do their job," Saylor added. "The fire departments, police departments, EMS and E-911 are all part of the system. We need to make everything roll the way it's supposed to roll. We need to incorporate the needs of the agencies, develop a plan, go to the commissioners and get them to adopt an ordinance. And we still need to recruit subcommittees. Each agency should have a subcommittee. This is not the forum for day-to-day operations. And we need to let everyone know that E-911 is not there to serve anyone, but to provide a service. We have to get that straight to the other agencies."

The committee will meet weekly for the first few weeks to establish a workable communication plan, then likely will meet monthly after that to work on various needs that arise.

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