Johnson County, MO: Where SAFETY HAS NO SIZE™
From six to ten positions, the dedicated work of JCCD staff is making the difference in the emergency communications services citizens receive.
Care, compassion and excellent service are what the team of Johnson County Central Dispatch and E9-1-1 (JCCD), Missouri, provide every day for residents and first responders. Their safety and security is always top of mind. But, like most Public Safety agencies strapped for resources, JCCD has overcome many obstacles to fulfill its mission. A guiding force to the agency's success is its staff, who never settles for anything less than their community deserves.
The Johnson County community boasts nearly 55,000 residents across 830+ square miles. It is home to Whiteman Air Force Base, as well as the University of Central Missouri. The populations of these organizations add to JCCD's care daily and on special occasions. The latter includes the Wings over Whiteman air show, an annual, one-day event that drew up to 15,000 people this year. It's these happenings and the County's position along a major state highway that prepare JCCD staff to always expect the unexpected.
How JCCD Rises to the Challenge
What became apparent to JCCD is that their former location, a tiny room in the basement of the County's judicial department, didn't provide adequate space to meet the demands of their ever-changing community. This, coupled with declining landline-based technology among its six positions, made it hard to provide mobile callers their best help. That's when JCCD staff knew it was time to make changes - and their effort paid off.
In November 2008, a petition for a sales tax was passed to help fund Johnson County's emergency communications. This was in support of JCCD as an independent agency, which placed supervision on an elected board. JCCD staff achieved this great accomplishment by going door-to-door getting signatures to put the petition on the ballot. They knew it was necessary to get this done and be where they needed to be.
Summer Boone, JCCD's Executive Director, says, "Johnson County is a rural community which can limit your choices and your funds." Summer has worked in PSAPs of all sizes and at all levels of government. This includes counties in GA and FL and military installations in WI and CO. And, of the differences between these centers, she says, "The assumption is nothing happens in rural communities, so less funding is needed. But, that's exactly where things will happen."
That's why her team feels fortunate to have a community that supports their work so much as to provide its funding. They consistently reach out to residents and educate them on the responsibilities of 9-1-1 and how it serves the community. These relationships have worked in their favor, as they've been able to increase the sales tax to enhance their efforts.
Today, JCCD operates 10 positions with 28 employees from a new, state-of-the-art facility. On average, its staff answers 20,000 9-1-1 calls and 70,000 non-emergency calls annually, resulting in 65,000 dispatched calls for service.
Leigh Anne Bowling, Assistant Director of JCCD, who started as a dispatcher in 2007, has been here through it all. She says, "Having watched how we've evolved over the last 10 years, in our professions and capabilities and our quality of service, is exciting."
Leigh Anne also addresses the need to keep up with technology, which the sales tax funding has helped them do. In 2014, JCCD, an Airbus customer since 2010, put the foundation of Next Generation 9-1-1 in place with the deployment of the VESTA® 9-1-1 Call Handling solution by Airbus and its channel partner Commenco.
"Having vendors with the same mindset of saving lives and property is a big deal," said Summer. She says JCCD has found that with Airbus and Commenco and their VESTA® experience. "The VESTA 9-1-1 solution has been uniquely customized for our agency, down to the colors and screen layouts." One feature Summer says her Calltakers really appreciate is the solution's speed dial capability, which eliminates the task of having to look up a number. She adds, "The great thing about Commenco is they take the time to teach us, and we pass that information to the staff so they're always prepared."
Looking to the Future of Emergency Communications
A major focus of the JCCD staff remains on the preparedness of their Calltakers.
Summer and Leigh Ann believe a Calltaker's education is key to job satisfaction, including their tenure on the job. That's why they're making strides to become an affordable training hub for other rural PSAPs within their region. Their first step toward this goal included hiring a training supervisor, who currently guides JCCD's Calltakers through six months of training before they "take their seat." Summer says, "This training has made a world of difference for the retention rates of eight recruits. We haven't lost one yet."
JCCD is also interested in becoming a center for Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, since both Summer and Leigh Anne serve on the regional Missouri council. Their goal is to host traditional instruction for law enforcement officers, as well as to send their staff to become certified instructors. After all, the various crises Calltakers handle daily could impact their mental health. Yet, the importance of their jobs requires them to be on task at all times.
"People don't realize all it takes to be a dispatcher," says Summer. "What is so critical is the ability to multitask - to hear and translate what you hear, to read a map and to listen to the caller and the officer - both under stress - at the same time, all while typing."
Leigh Anne adds how important it is to know your community, too. "We have almost all volunteer fire departments - all autonomous, so our dispatchers have to understand how each one works."
Their need for this level of detail keeps JCCD's staff out in the streets for public relations, like for a recent back-to-school event. This effort helps them foster those relationships that have proven so beneficial to their success.
And, like so many PSAPs their size, JCCD will continue to build on each success to better serve and protect its community. "There have been so many changes, and in the process, we've become better in everything - from a technical standpoint to staffing to quality assurance," says Leigh Ann. "We've come a long way, and we'll just keep getting better."