Washburn County will be implementing an entirely new 911 system soon as the current Washburn County 911 system is only available on the Windows XP platform, according to Washburn County Chief Deputy Mike Richter. 

“If the system failed right now, it would require a complete rebuild of an XP box for temporary service,” said Richter. Microsoft had previously announced that Windows XP will no longer be supported with updates or maintenance. 

Chief Deputy Richter said that the Next Generation 911 system “offers multimedia capabilities, including photographs, video, text messaging and voice calling, built right into the system. The plans in place for implementation that are supported by the current phone company infrastructure will be voice calling and text messaging.”

Richter said that implementing the Next Generation 911 system will provide an increased number of 911 lines for calls coming into the Washburn County Sheriff’s Dispatch center while also reducing the their workload.

“The Next Generation 911 system provides automatic responses to pocket dialed or false wireless calls, saving the Washburn County Sheriff’s staff time and money,” said the Chief Deputy. “Pocket dials get return calls as well as return text messages that happen automatically.”

An increased 2nd level of security is provided with this Next Generation 911 system through the Voice Over IP (basically a phone call transmitted over the internet) in the event of phone failures. 

The Washburn County Sheriff’s Dispatch staff will be provided with address history via an integrated Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system regarding any incoming 911 calls on their computer screen before the calls are even answered. 

“This allows all information from this location to display to the dispatcher. For example, a special needs child and violence towards officers; the Dispatcher sees the history of all calls originating from the address,” said Richter.

Next Generation 911 is also designed to allow for future updates so that the system may be readily expanded to allow for any future FCC mandates. 

“Another neat feature,” added Richter, “is the system recognizes the geographical profile of the call. If 5 people all call in an accident on HWY 53 and 1 person calls in a choking baby from Springbrook, the Springbrook call is jumped to the number 2 call in the queue. The system recognizes that the 6 different calls are actually only 2 incidents; the accident, and the choking child.”

The cost of this much-needed new system was $130,000, which Washburn County Sheriff Dryden said had previously been addressed and added that he is "very appreciative that the Washburn County Board of Supervisors had the foresight to set aside funds for this project many years ago."

The Next Generation 911 system will be implemented in June of this year.

Also Read:

'Washburn County 911 Where's Your Emergency?'

Tuesday, May 23, 2017 | by Ben Dryden

SHELL LAKE -- Dispatchers have it easy: not a lot of stress, sit in a safe and controlled environment, answer a few calls, run a few plate numbers, tell Fire & EMS where to go, punch out and go home — not all that different from being an office manager. 

Or so I thought until I I had the opportunity to hang out with 3 Dispatchers and the Jail Captain at the Washburn County Dispatch Center.

“We get that secretary reference a lot,” said Washburn County Jailer/Dispatcher Sue Radtke.  “If people only knew what we really do every day.”

Ok, I’ll bite. What do they really do every day?

For starters, Washburn County Dispatchers are not only Dispatchers but also Jailers.

“Due to the size of our county, we cannot afford to have full-time Dispatchers 24/7 unless we also share the duties of being Jailers,” Said Washburn County Captain Daniel Brereton. “For counties of our size, it is economically more efficient to combine our full-time Dispatchers and Jailers into one position. This works until your county's needs for service calls and/or jail population grows large enough to warrant a discussion on splitting them. Something Washburn County appears to be slowly heading towards.”

Finding someone that is qualified, capable and able to fill the role as a Jailer is challenging in itself. Finding qualified, capable and able Dispatchers is also challenging. Finding people that can do both, Captain Brereton says, “adds an additional challenge, but we have been fortunate in finding those people in the past”.

FUN FACT: Captain Daniel Brereton is affectionately known as ‘Captain Dan’. This is due to when he was still a Lieutenant and co-workers would call him ‘Lieutenant Dan’, a character in the film Forrest Gump.

Shifts typically have 3 people on duty: 1 person manning Dispatch, and two Jailers. They work on rotations throughout most shifts so no one person is doing Dispatch or Jailing for their entire shift. Captain Brereton says he allows his Dispatch/Jailers to make that decision amongst themselves for each shift. This autonomy helps keep up morale and also keeps his team sharp.

The flexibility of having all Jailers also trained in as Dispatchers means that when times get busy, the people working on jail-duties can put on their Dispatching hats and help out when needed.

Captain Brereton says that “The average dispatcher can handle about 3 normal traffic stops at a time, along with monitoring a few other situations.” But if there is an accident, for example, it might be too much for just one Dispatcher to handle, so they can have another Jailer/Dispatcher jump on the 2nd station that is set up in the control center to assist. Furthermore, the 3rd person can also come in and help answer phone calls.

Dispatch Quick Tip: Mobile Phones that have been disconnected can still call 911. So if you no longer use your old mobile phone but have given it to your kids to use to play, make sure to educate them on not only how they can call 911, but also educate them that that part of the phone is not a toy — it can create a lot of calls to Dispatchers tying up their phone lines and subsequently send out Deputies and other resources to investigate the situation.

Effective communication in the control center between the three is also vital during these major situations.

Washburn County Dispatcher/Jailer Brett Dodge says that “The two dispatch stations can enter in notes on the computer that notifies the other dispatcher that something has been added but sometimes we have to communicate with each other verbally to make sure we are sharing all of the important information with each other if it’s a major situation.”

Accidents are a common example of one of these major situations.

“You have to build the scene in your minds-eye,” said Washburn County Dispatcher/Jailer Randy Laursen. “We have to see the whole scene before we have any actual eyes on the scene”.

Doing this allows the Dispatchers to make sure they are coordinating resources (Fire, EMT, Law Enforcement, Etc.) effectively and communicating directions that each resource should take to get there based on their current location. Sending an EMT in the wrong direction could be a matter of life-or-death. 

“Your mind is on resources at all times,” said Laursen. “We have to know who to call to get them there more quickly, keep everyone organized, keep traffic flowing and control the situation.”

Special Message from Spooner Fire Chief Darren Vik: "Dispatch plays an important role for the fire departments in our County. We often make requests to dispatch for assistance with utility companies, tow services, and heavy equipment needs. We rely on them to get our job done and we appreciate them" 

Speaking of keeping organized, there are 17 computer programs that the Dispatchers in Washburn County have to be fluent in order to do their jobs efficiently and effectively, but that is just the half of it.

“There are 10,000 situations Dispatchers have to know how to handle at any given point and time”, Captain Brereton added. “Most Dispatchers won’t have to use 90% of those in their careers, however, they have to be trained and ready to know exactly what to do in case one of those situations arises. That is why we train and train and train. Constantly. It’s the situation where if we stumble that can lead to very bad things.”

So with all the pressure and stress that goes with the job, how do our dispatchers cope?

“We rely a lot on our second family”, Radtke said. “Our co-workers,” she clarified.

This isn’t a job where you punch out and go home. And it’s not something they can really talk about with their families. Partly because it's difficult to explain it to their families, and partly because they really can’t share too much information.

Dispatch Quick Tip: If you have a loss of power, don’t call Dispatch. You should call your local power company. However, if you see a line down and it is a public safety issue, then that is something you should definitely call in.

All three have heard about dispatchers from other counties bragging that they are not affected emotionally by the calls they receive.

Laursen doesn't buy that. “I doubt that's is true. There is no way you are not affected by some calls,” Laursen said. “You always remember the mother screaming on the phone that her child just died in her arms. The person that shoots himself while on the phone with you. You think about this on your day off when doing normal things like mowing the lawn or you wake up in the dead of the night and you think about these incidents,” Laursen concluded.

Special Message from Shell Lake Police Chief Dave Wilson: OUR dispatchers play a vital role in our line of work, from screening calls for service, looking up pertinent information and data. They are our “lifeline” to get required assistance to us out on the street, from LE backup, ambulance, and fire support if required. They are the “first” First responders when that phone rings, to address a citizen's concern or issue. We thank them every day for being that guardian angel on the other end of the radio.

All three dispatchers said that there are times at work when a situation has been concluded and if they have a little downtime, they will ask another Jailer/Dispatcher to man the main dispatch station so they can get away for a few minutes to clear their head and work through the emotions and stress of a prior incident. 

It was clear to me by listening to them speak that this is something they don't like to talk about too much but that each of them understands when someone else needs to step out; a mutual understanding from this tight-knit group as they have all been there before and know the emotional challenges of the job.

“It’s a rollercoaster”, Laursen said. “Times of routine calls that are almost boring, but when that 911 call comes in you just never know what it is and what you have to do”. 

I asked Laursen if this was similar to being a closing pitcher in baseball, 8 innings of boredom juxtaposed to 1 inning of the high stress and everyone watching you pitch with the game on the line.

“Sort of. Except it’s more like the World Series. Actually, some days, it’s more like playing an entire 7 game World Series in one shift.”

So why do they do this?

“It’s not the money,” Dodge said. “it’s because we are helping people”.

It’s definitely not the money”, Radtke added. “We are helping people even if they don’t know or think that we are."

“I don’t think you will find a dispatcher up here that is not genuinely concerned about the community,” Dodge said.

Dispatch Quick Tip: Don’t assume the Dispatchers know from where you are calling. Dispatcher's ability to track your location is due to your cell phone reception and closest cell tower. It might just give a “within 5-mile radius” to the Dispatchers. Always tell Dispatch your location or the closest location possible.

One of the hardest parts of the job, according to Dodge, is that dispatchers rarely know the outcome to situations. “When a scene is cleared and people are taken to the ER or Lifeline flies them away or someone is taken to jail, we don’t get updates. Some of these people are our friends and family. But we have to keep doing our jobs because there is always the next situation to deal with, and everyone relies on us.”

Is that difficult? “There is just no closure on our end”, Dodge concluded.

Special Message from Washburn County Chief Deputy Mike Richter - "Living in or traveling through Washburn County? Dial 911 and 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the phone call will be answered by a Washburn County Sheriff’s Office Dispatcher/Jailer. The Dispatcher/Jailer will take your name, address, and telephone number, and will determine what your emergency needs are. The Dispatcher/Jailer will then identify what Law Enforcement, Fire, or Emergency Medical resource can best respond to your emergency. The Dispatcher/Jailer guides the responding units to your location, in order to resolve your current emergency situation.

"The Washburn County Dispatcher/Jailers are also responsible for the safety and security of inmates being held in the Washburn County Jail. Dispatch/Jailers document inmate’s activities, physical and mental health, prescriptions, and conduct as required by state law. Dispatch/Jailers deal daily with inmates displaying anger, depression, violence, and life-coping skill needs.

"The Washburn County Dispatcher/Jailers are the professionals behind the scenes of The Sheriff’s Office operations. The stress and responsibilities that go with the Dispatch/Jailer job are not often recognized but are very substantial.

"Often times in the fast pace of our hectic lives, we forget to acknowledge those who are vital to the mission of serving the citizens and public in Washburn County. Dispatchers/Jailers of The Washburn County Sheriff’s Office. Thank you for your service."

Yet, through all of the stress (often likened to air-traffic controllers), pressure, emotional situations, and overall challenges of the job (and we haven’t even talked about their roles as Jailers!), they understand that they cannot let that control them.  

So the next time you have to call Washburn County's 911 Dispatch, you might be hysterical (understandably), out-of-sorts, and in a crisis situation.  But the voice on the other end will calmly answer... 

“Washburn County 911 - Where’s Your Emergency?"

Because these guys are pros.

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