At their regular Tuesday meeting the Porter County Board of Commissioners
were given the results of a consultant’s study of the county’s Enhanced 911
center that recommends improvements.
The second week of April is declared National Telecommunica-tions Safety
Operators week, the report acknowledged the dedication and work done by
Porter county emergency operators and responders.
Daniel S. McDevitt, principle of REM corporation, summarized the reports’
findings. Attending were many of the emergency operators and responders who
contributed to the study.
He assured them that his group went into this project with no preconceived
ideas on what should or should not be done. He said he wanted the report to
truly reflect conditions and functions of the department.
The two-month study included field interviews, observations, input from
member agencies and the review of policy and procedures.
Prior to starting the Lansing Illinois based REM Management Services,
McDevitt retired from the Illinois State Police as a colonel. Since retiring
he has made security and emergency management his full time passion.
After the commissioners approved continued work to bring about the
recommended changes, McDevitt told the board “You can look at other vendors
I don’t want you to put us to work because we did this study, the important
thing is that our recommendations be implemented. This could be a life or
Completed on March 17, the study’s recommendations involve staffing,
scheduling, training and written procedures.
McDevitt noted that being a 911 operator is one of the most stressful jobs
he has seen. To help minimize some of this stress, REM’s suggestions
include: increasing staff numbers, offering more training, improving
employee recognition, reducing the centers’ background noises, and
eliminating weekly shift rotations.
Currently operators change shift each week. This, noted McDevitt, is not
healthy, and as a result leads to absenteeism and increased overtime
APCO, Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, recommends that
for a center the size of Porter County’s and with the volume of calls it
handles, the staffing level should be 46 FTEs (full time equivalent
employees). The county’s center current staffing level is 34.
In 2008 the Indiana State Legislature passed a bill that mandates counties
have no more than two centers per county. In keeping with this requirement
the Valparaiso and Portage centers were merged with the Porter County
center. The study noted that these mergers resulted in a net loss of 5 full
time equivalent positions.
The study also found inconsistencies with interdepartmental communications
McDevitt added that, often, important information is not relayed between
shifts or from co-workers to co-worker. In addition, training opportunities
are not taken advantage of, with requests for training often being ignored.
He suggested training be scheduled on a regular basis and information
learned be taught to those employees not able to attend. McDevitt called
this process train the trainer.
Also McDevitt suggests that newly hired police and fire personnel be
required to spend a shift in the center to better understand what it is that
the operators do.
In addition, newly hired E911 employees are required to do a ride along with
police to see how the work they do impacts the officer on patrol.
To keep up with changing technology, it was also recommended that a capital
development fund be established.
The report stopped short of telling the commissioners how to pay for these
improvements. Last year the county’s E911 Director Dave Shiebels suggested
an increased surcharge for landline phones be considered.
Speaking to the added expense of bringing about the recommended changes,
McDevitt stopped short of advocating an increased surcharge saying, “The
funded surcharge is not going to work. Its inadequate.”
An additional recommendation is to establish an advisory committee to meet
regularly and discuss progress. The ten person committee would be comprised
of all emergency disciplines, including police and fire chiefs, E911
operators and a commissioner.
Confirming his commitment to improving the county’s 911 center, Commissioner
President John Evans R-North volunteered to be the first commissioner on the
Pledging his support to the recommendations, Evans said, “This report is not
going to just sit on a shelf somewhere.”