Sunday, November 1, 2009

What is Your Emergency?

This poor neglected blog. If it were a houseplant it would have died a long time ago. I just can't seem to find the time and/or material. Even typing this is a struggle due to Grandbaby's insistence on assisting, which is not as helpful as she thinks. She has become quite the drama queen, putting on a show whenever one of her excursions into mischief gets interrupted. She also now officially possesses award-winning cuteness; a picture of her in her Halloween costume entered in a contest at the Wal-Mart portrait studio brought home the hardware. Of course this picture will be posted as soon as I can get it scanned; I have a grandfatherly duty to uphold.

I do have something of an excuse for the last two weeks. I attended (and passed,happily) the 911 telecommunicator certification course. This hadn't been required of us until recently since we're not an actual 911 center, although we do many of the same things. I had fairly low expectations for it since it is intended for people new to the job as opposed to a veteran like me. It had also been 25 years (almost exactly....sigh) since I had been in a classroom setting, and I hadn't missed it. But I must say it turned out to be a good experience. It provided a formal basis for some of the procedures we had developed on our own and some good background information that will be useful. It also allowed me to recharge a bit and shake off creeping burnout.

The best part was the chance to meet people who do what I do, under wildly varying conditions. Some work for fairly large, well-organized operations that offer at least adequate compensation; others are employed by outfits that barely meet the minimum standards for wages that are usually associated with french fries rather than public safety. People tend to think of 911 service as being consistent everywhere, and would be appalled if they knew how many centers have only one person handling not just 911 but all law enforcement dispatch duties (as well as other duties; some also assist with jail operations) for large - if sometimes sparsely populated - areas of the state.

The reason for this, as usual, is money; local jurisdictions don't like to spend any more than absolutely necessary, and complain loudly about any attempt to require better service. Some places closed their 911 centers and contracted the service out rather than upgrade to the latest standards, and a proposal to require two people on duty at all times at a 911 center - if passed - will probably lead to more consolidation.

To a certain degree this is understandable. As the population concentrates more into certain parts of the state, other governments are left with a smaller tax base from which to pay for expensive and sophisticated equipment and the trained people to use it. It's often cheaper and easier to pay someone who already has the facilities to handle it. It may even be advantageous to the public, who get a more consistent level of service.

What is lost is the same thing that is lost when you go to Wal-Mart instead of the small grocery store. The person who answers the call, however conscientious - and I can say that everyone I met at this class has a sense of dedication to public service that I found inspirational; the woman who sat next to me is not only a dispatcher but a volunteer firefighter and EMT - is less likely to have an intimate knowledge of your area and circumstances. This can be upsetting to rural folks used to the Mayberry type of public service. But it is the trade off for the type of emergency service most people have come to expect.