Jefferson County Emergency Communications Center answers emergency and non-emergency calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In October of 2008 the Emergency Communications Center moved into a new building in Bardane; just to the west of Charles Town. Installed in the new center is state of the art infrastructure that allows dispatchers and public safety personnel to better serve the community. Jefferson County Emergency Communications employs 20 full time Public Safety Dispatchers and 6 part-time Public Safety Dispatchers. In addition to the Public Safety Dispatchers Jefferson County Emergency Communications also employs an administrative assistant, EMD-Quality Assurance Coordinator, Deputy Director and Director.
It is the mission of the Jefferson County Emergency Communications Center to enhance the quality of life of every person in Jefferson County, West Virginia by processing emergency 9-1-1 and non-emergency calls for service in a prompt, courteous, professional manner; striving for efficiency; to help save lives, protect property, and to assist the public and public safety response personnel; making Jefferson County a safer community in which to live, work and visit.
Jefferson County Emergency Communications - 50 Years and Counting
Tuesday December 27, 1960 at 10:15 a.m. became an historic day for Jefferson County. On that day Jefferson County's "Central Control Center" was put into operation to begin "radio dispatching" the County's four fire departments and the Charles Town and Ranson Police Departments.
An article dated December 29, 1960 from the Spirit of Jefferson Farmer's Advocate proudly announces that through the cooperation of the Jefferson County Volunteer Firemen's Association and the General Telephone office of Charles Town, J. Kenneth Willingham, then-president of the Firemen's Association, implemented a system of 24 hour dispatching using a VHF base station and air raid system that reached all parts of the County - the first Countywide radio system. The center at that time was located at the Independent Fire Company at Broadway Rouss Hall - which is now home to the Charles Town Visitor Center.
When the Central Control Center was placed into service, four men were hired to staff it around the clock. Robert Drake of Charles Town, Harry Pine of Charles Town, Jack Getzendanner of Charles Town, and Lee Kline of Shepherdstown were the first four dispatchers. According to the article, Mr. Pine was the first person charged with the dispatching duties for the newly formed Jefferson County Communications Commission.
Development of an Emergency Call System
In the 1950's, independent telephone companies were very common throughout the United States and if you needed police, fire, or an ambulance, you simply dialed "0" to reach an operator who usually connected the caller to a local police department. In 1958 the U.S. Congress called for a universal emergency number but it wasn't until February 16, 1968 that the first 9-1-1 call was made in Haleyville, Alabama - the birth of 9-1-1 in the United States.
During the 60's and throughout the 70's and early 80's, Jefferson County Central Control Center received its calls through the operator and a caller had to ask for "14" to be connected to Central Control. If you lived in Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry, Kearneysville, Bakerton or Millville; calls were considered "long distance", so a caller had to tell the operator to connect to "Charles Town 14" which the operator then connected to the Charles Town Exchange and into Central Control.
The dispatchers at Central Control dispatched for the Independent, Friendship (Harpers Ferry), Shepherdstown and Citizens Fire Companies. These Fire Departments installed mobile radio devices in their apparatus and could talk back to Central Control. The Charles Town and Ranson Police Departments were also dispatched from this center.
When this new countywide radio system was implemented, a total of $12,000 was spent for the purchase and installation of all of the equipment; half funded by the federal government's Civilian Defense Agency.
In the early 1970's, the center moved into a room at the Charles Town Police Department, which is now home to the Charles Town City Hall and Water Department.
In the mid 1980's, the Citizens Telephone Company upgraded its mechanical switching to electronics and around this time, the County implemented the use of 9-1-1 as the universal emergency number for the County. This allowed a citizen to dail 9-1-1 from anywhere in the County and they were then connected to a dispatcher. Around this time, Emergency "Headquarters" was moved to the Public Services Center at Badaine.
It wasn't until 1998 that enhanced 9-1-1 or E9-1-1 was implemented by then Director Darrell Penwell. E9-1-1 is the service that provides the location (address) information as well as the callback number to the dispatcher when a caller dials 9-1-1. Although the capability to view location information was present from the telephone system, the county had yet to install a formal addressing system so it was common for the dispatcher to receive only the telephone number and invalid or inaccurate address information. Address data was rarely accurate. The dispatcher still had to ask for location information and it proved difficult and time consuming to send emergency response vehicles. The County continued operating on the VHF radio system.
Addressing the County
In 2001, Jeffrey Polczynski was appointed as the new Director of Communications. New programs, strategies and philosophies were developed to move the center forward. The need to implement a standardized addressing system throughout the County was crucial to the dispatching and response of emergency personnel. The Director managed the project which saw implementation of an ordinance that is the standard ordinance used throughout other Counties in the State; re-naming of roads that were duplicate or confusingly similar; working with the USPS and telephone companies to effect changes to their databases; and working with citizens groups, HOA's and individuals to implement the changes. Having an addressing system in place allowed the ECC to implement a high tech mapping system. This gave the dispatcher the capability to automatically see where a caller was calling from which also plots the call immediately on the map. It wasn't until around 2005 that all locations in the County were migrated to the standardized addressing system and citizens were using their new address. This gave the dispatcher the ability to view accurate address data from an inbound 9-1-1 call anywhere in the County. The data from the map also gave the dispatcher the information on response jurisdiction and agencies.
EMD and Accreditation
In 2003, the Emergency Communications Center became recognized by the National Academy of Emergency Dispatch as an EMD Accredited Center of Excellence - the only Accredited Center in the State of West Virginia. Jefferson County implemented the use of the Medical Priority Dispatch System, commonly referred as Emergency Medical Dispatch or EMD. EMD is the system and protocol the dispatcher uses to determine medical emergency situations, and the series of instructions that the dispatcher provides in cardiac, choking, childbirth, bleeding and other medical situations. It is a tool that is used to determine the response level of the ambulance or paramedic as well. Jefferson County dispatchers have saved lives with the use of the EMD program.
New Emergency Communications Center
On October 28, 2008 the Jefferson County Emergency Communications Center moved into its new facility and with this move, abandoned the VHF radio system of old and migrated to the statewide P25 UHF trunked radio system becoming the fifth County in the state to be "mission critical" on the Statewide Interoperable Radio Network. All public safety agencies, schools, government offices, and emergency management agencies are now part of the radio system and can communicate with each other in many forms. The ECC also switched its telephone network onto the Verizon 9-1-1 network giving the dispatcher the ability to receive wireless 9-1-1 calls via standard 9-1-1 lines and plotting the coordinates of the caller's location on the mapping system with excellent accuracy - fully wireless phase II compliance with all wireless carriers serving Jefferson County.
Fifty years ago, the center started with four employees and a director. By 2001, there were twelve authorized employees and today, the center is staffed with twenty-nine highly trained dispatchers, supervisors, and managers that provide around the clock coverage to handle today's emergencies with skill and professionalism.
New full-time Public Safety Dispatcher's are trained in an academy setting and are given the skillset to handle all types of calls and be able to dispatch all disciplines. Training takes approximately 12 months before a new employee is released from training and assigned to a team. During this 12 month cycle, the trainee will be in the classroom, in the field, and on the console learning and experiencing. All trainee's are with certified Communications Training Officers during all phases of the training process. The ECC has a training room and console system that allows for simulation, scenario and role-playing as part of its state-of-the-art Communications Center.
There have only been three persons to hold the title of Director of Communications Center. J. Kenneth Willingham, Darrell Penwell, and Jeffrey Polczynski. Each of the directors has moved the agency further down the road taking on challenges of their era. With Mr. Willingham and the Fireman's Association, the necessity to create a dispatch center and a countywide radio system with a one-stop location for combined police, fire, and ambulance dispatching appeared to be his goal. Mr. Penwell worked on the creation of the Office of Emergency Services, saw the need for a standardized addressing system, dealt with equipment changes and implemented the 9-1-1 fee, 9-1-1 ordinance and created the 9-1-1 Advisory Board.
For Mr. Polczynski, managing a 9-1-1 center and bringing Jefferson County into the 21st century was the goal. Starting with the addressing project; bringing it to completion while implementing a GIS was a major undertaking. Implementing policies and procedures into an organized manual; and creating an integrated training program for the dispatch staff to allow for better trained dispatchers was key.
Today, the ECC has robust technology to dispatch for the seven law enforcement agencies, seven fire departments and one EMS agency and it has the capability to interoperate with our surrounding public safety partners in accordance to national homeland security directives.
The Next 50 Years
In the not so distant future, 9-1-1 centers throughout the nation are faced with next generation 9-1-1 and the ability to receive 9-1-1 calls from any device via any means; whether that is via texting and SMS, telematics from vehicles, 4G or LTE networks and any future devices that are now being thought of. We're sure that Mr. Willingham and the dispatchers of the era would marvel at how far the agency has progressed in these fifty years but one thing has not changed - Jefferson County Communications has always existed to save lives, protect property and protect the public and public safety agencies making Jefferson County a better place to live, work and visit.
- Shawn Breeden, Public Safety Dispatcher