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Added cell phone use ringing up shortage for dispatchers

[4/01/04]People with cell phones are showing such good citizenship that the 911 dispatch center may need to add staff, its director told the Warren County E-911 Commission.

“These cell phones are running us over,” E-911 director Allen Maxwell told the center’s governing commission. “We’re getting 20 and 30 (calls) at a time. And we cannot, we will not, assume that those are duplicate calls.”

The bursts of calls occur, for example, when there’s a car wreck. Multiple calls from witnesses and passers-by start, and dispatchers have no way to discern repeat notifications from new emergencies before answering.

Maxwell made his comments as part of his report to the center’s commissioners during their regular monthly meeting Wednesday in the Warren County Board of Supervisors building.

The center may need to hire two additional dispatchers, increasing from 14 to 16 total, Maxwell said, to allow each shift to have one dispatcher monitoring each of three primary radio frequencies plus a supervisor on hand.

“I see the need for it,” he said.

Today, sometimes three dispatchers are on duty during a shift and can be overwhelmed.

Maxwell said the local dispatch center’s BellSouth representative had told him that the center ranks in the top three or four in the state in the total number of calls it receives of all types, including administrative calls.

Maxwell presented no request for additional staffing to the commission, but said he may do so in July or August.

The commission and Maxwell also discussed the possibility of moving their disaster center from one site to another.

The commission’s chairman, Kelly Worthy, said an alternate location was set up about three years ago.

“We’re still in the stage of seeing if we can do it,” Maxwell said. “That’s where we stand.”

In other business, the commission:

Discussed the possibility of donation by E-911 personnel of leave time to Deputy Sheriff Mike Hollingsworth, who was injured when he was struck by a car while on-duty Feb. 9. Sheriff Martin Pace, a member of the commission, said that Hollingsworth continues to be paid at his former rate because fellow members of the sheriff’s department have donated some of their own leave time to Hollingsworth. The deputy’s recovery may, however, outlast the leave time that is available for donation by department employees, Pace added. Hollingsworth would then begin being paid by a workers’-compensation plan, from which he would receive payments at a fraction of his current rate, Pace said. County administrator Rick Polk said he was not sure whether leave time could be donated across county departments. Maxwell said he would investigate the matter.

Heard Maxwell report that a bill that would have allowed the doubling of the E-911 surcharges on cell phones has died in committee in the Mississippi Legislature. The surcharges on different types of phone extensions have become an issue since, altogether, they cover about 55 percent of the local center’s 2003 annual budget of about $840,000.

Approved a policy on visitors to the E-911 center, giving only its commission’s chairman and its director the authority to make exceptions to a no-visitors policy.

Approved the naming of two new spur roads in new housing developments. One, Rue Vernet, is off Maison Rue near Wisconsin Avenue and South Frontage Road. The other, Madison Ridge, is off Lee Road across from the Turning Leaf subdivision.

Approved two addressing changes and one clarification, each affecting residents of no more than five homes.

Approved a travel advance for a planned trip of two employees to New Orleans for mandatory training.