“911, Where’s Your Emergency?”

by | Nov 9, 2018

When an emergency occurs, residents have been taught to call 911, but few likely know what happens on the other end of the phone. In Auburn, all dispatching is done by civilians at the police department, and they answer about 30,000 calls each year. In addition to handling police, fire and emergency medical calls, dispatchers also answer for the DPW and animal control on nights and weekends.

For many years, oversight of the dispatch center was the responsibility of a third shift police sergeant, but that all changed on July 1st with the start of Fiscal Year 2019 and the start of Penny Ryan as the new Communications Director. Ryan brought 20 years of dispatch experience with her and was most recently Charlton’s Communications Director.

Fire Chief Stephen Coleman told Auburn Mass Daily that both he and Police Chief Andrew Sluckis realized they needed experienced leadership in the dispatch center. Coleman said, “Kudos to the town administration for responding to this need. We’re really hoping Penny will give our dispatchers identity because they are often the forgotten public safety link.”

Four months into her new position, Ryan has evaluated current practices and equipment while developing a standardized training program and formerly writing policies and procedures. She has also started the process of reviewing Emergency Medical Dispatches to meet the state required 10%. Prior to her arrival, there was no one to do this.

On October 3rd, the Auburn 911 Communications Center began accepting Phase 2 Wireless Direct 911 calls. Ryan made a request with the State to have local wireless 911 calls come directly to them rather than first going to the State Police or a wireless operator. The upgrade came at no cost to the town.

Ryan said, “People get frustrated when they have to repeat their emergency twice. This system enables us to get people the help they need as quickly as possible by taking these calls directly.” Cell phone calls from the Mass Pike or on Interstates 290 and 395 will still go to the State Police since they have jurisdiction on those highways.

Transitioning to the Wireless Direct Program reduces the amount of time it takes to initiate a police, fire, or emergency medical response. Seconds count in emergencies and the system enables Auburn dispatchers to get people the help they need as quickly as possible by taking these calls directly. Out of 351 Massachusetts communities, 291 have the Wireless Direct Program. Director Ryan says, “We want to provide the best service that we can to everyone in our community by enhancing our response times to calls, especially critical calls that will help save lives.”

Another aspect of the Director’s job is to help upgrade the dispatch center which goes back to the construction of the Oxford St. North building in the 90’s. The radio consoles are over 20 years old, and they are scheduled for replacement in FY2020. The center, like the rest of the police headquarters, is also undersized and built when there were far fewer public safety calls.

There will always be challenges in public safety, but it’s nice to see those challenges in capable hands.