on call

David Laughlin/The Duncan Banner Sandy Griffith works the phones as a dispatcher at the dispatch center in Duncan.

The Duncan Banner

They are on the other side of the phone line in times of need. When disaster strikes, they organize and inform. No matter the day, no matter the hour, there is someone to answer the call. Most people will never see the innerworkings of the dispatch center located at 708 W. Willow in Duncan, but all callers benefit from it. They are the unsung heroes that serve as the mediator between emergency services and those in need.

No one asks their names and they don’t participate in parades. They simply do their best to control the chaos that is emergency management.

There are 15 employees for the dispatch center. No less than two are present at any given time. They dispatch for all of Duncan and Velma’s emergency services, animal control, city utilities, Stephens County Sheriff, County Commissioners, the DA’s office, the Empire, Meridian, Oak Ridge volunteer fire departments. In 2009, they had over half a million pieces of information gathered from their communications, 541,353 to be exact. To say the dispatch center is busy is an understatement; chaotic is a more appropriate description.

The dispatch center operates non stop, all year long. Not everything that comes through to the dispatch center is an emergency. Lt. Robert Lynn of the Duncan Police Department, said “We have people call with anything and everything, whether there cable is out or if there is a dog out.”

Lynn stresses to his employees the importance of leaving work at work when they go home. “I want them to feel the callers emotions so they can feel the urgency,” Lynn said. “But we have to draw a line, if we take things home we won’t be successful.”

Jennifer Snyder is the Assistant Director of the dispatch center. She has been a dispatcher for 10 years. “You get a sense of urgency to help the people,” Snyder said. In dealing with stress, Snyder said “I just move past the stress. Overall, I love what I do. It is very rewarding.”

With over half a million contacts last year, the dispatch center stayed busy. “If you got a busy signal, it’s because these people were working hard,” Lynn said. “The public doesn’t check our schedule before they call.”

Lynn would like to see some improvements to the emergency management infrastructure. “E911 would be a tremendous asset to the county,” Lynn said. “Right now, if someone calls 911 on their cell phone, we have no idea where they are located.” Lynn said the problem is compounded by a growing trend of bypassing traditional land line phones.

On average, the dispatch center had one communication of some sort every minute of 2009. Lynn said “Chaos is a good thing, if you can manage it.”

— David Laughlin is a reporter for The Duncan Banner. He can be reached at 580-255-5354, Ext. 144, or via e-mail at david.laughlin@duncanbanner.com.

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