SPRINGFIELD — Workers situated in an out-of-the way location are always at the center of emergency responses in Effingham County.
The E-911 Call Center at 181 Recycle Way serves as a communications bridge between citizens in need of public safety assistance and people who provide that service.
“You know,” E-911 Director Jay Spinks said, “the 911 dispatchers, they’re sitting at their consoles, they come in, get ready for their 12-hour shifts, they sit down — on one side of them they have the radio console full of 16 channels they have to monitor on a daily basis for 12 hours and in a major event, a major crisis such as a hurricane, automatically those 16 channels go to 30 channels they have to start monitoring.”
E-911 boasts a staff of 16, with four to a shift working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Employees work two days and they receive two off days.
The 12-hour shifts are based on the shifts that law enforcement agencies usually work.
Spinks said the past year was a strange one for E-911. He said one of its newer dispatchers handled a call that turned out to be a kidnapping. The caller dialed 911 but put down the telephone, leaving the dispatcher to listen and try to figure out what was happening.
Initially, it was thought the situation might be a domestic dispute and might involve a gun. By continuing to listen and using available technology, however, it was determined the call was coming from a moving vehicle and dispatchers were able to locate it and alert law enforcement, which arrived and brought the incident to closure.
Spinks said E-911 workers are still adhering to COVID-19 protocols and wearing PPE, taking all proper precautions in doing their jobs. He also said that, looking ahead, they are preparing for a busier than normal hurricane season.
911 was implemented in 1993 in the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office. As the county started to grow and calls for service increased, it was decided to construct the current building, which opened in June 2009.
Spinks said the total cost of E-911 service in 2010 was $27,000, and in 2019 it rose to $70,000.
Last year, the county replaced its CAD system (computer-aided dispatch system) and installed a new 911 telephone system. This was a one-time cost of just over $300,000.
This now gives the county one system shared by the E-911 Call Center and the Sheriff’s Office. Costs for 2020 were $59,564.
When cell phones were first becoming popular nearly three decades ago, a dispatcher could only tell the phone number of a caller, or at the most, the nearest tower it pinged off, and not the caller’s location. Now dispatchers can tell a caller's location within just a few feet, which is vital in case the caller is a child or an incapacitated person.
Aiding in this capability is “Rapid SOS,” a free service to 911 agencies.
The next advance on the horizon is the addition of texting to 911. Spinks said his agency is already equipped for it and is just waiting for the local service providers to get ready to proceed.
He said, "They are looking to standardize because right now across the nation there is no standardization."
Spinks said they are waiting for better standards for Effingham County citizens.
At the time of the interview for this story, there was one job opening at the E-911 Call Center because of a promotion. Those interested in applying for the vacancy should visit effinghamcounty.org.
Spinks said, because of the nature of the job, E-911 dispatchers are difficult to find. He said the typical applicant is a “Type A personality, a take-charge person.”