Westmoreland County 911 History
The Westmoreland 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Center, which began formal operations in March of 1979, evolved from a regional 9-1-1 Center founded in November of 1971 to serve the central Westmoreland County area. This pilot project was housed in the Greensburg Police Department radio room and was primarily a call routing and fire dispatch operation.
The original Greensburg 9-1-1 system was funded by the Governor's Justice Commission for several years until it was absorbed into the old Office of Civil Preparedness. The system formed the basis for the expanded 9-1-1 system currently in service in the county. Planning for a county wide system began around 1974, and the original system, agreed on several years later, was designed to be primarily a call transferring operation and a fire dispatch center. Only minimal provisions were made for the dispatching of Emergency Medical Services and Police departments, since at the time other dispatch points in the county were handling these areas. The only exceptions were direct radio dispatch for the Westmoreland County Park Police and off-hours radio contact for the Westmoreland County Detectives Bureau.
A new center, housed on the upper parking level of the newly constructed Courthouse Square Annex building, began operation in late 1978 with official dedication taking place the following March. The annual call volume increased from a yearly total of 5,000 calls taken at the pilot center to a total of over 12,000 calls in the initial year of operation, effectively doubling the workload.
Personnel increased from a single dispatcher per 8 hour shift to a total of four dispatchers and a supervisor. In September 1980, we began EMS dispatch at the request of one county ambulance service, and in March 1981, at the request of Irwin and North Irwin Boroughs, the Westmoreland County Police Radio network, a subdivision of Westmoreland County 9-1-1, was formed to handle municipal police dispatching. Irwin Borough previously handled dispatch responsibilities for both their local police department and ambulance services. Westmoreland 9-1-1 was already providing the fire dispatch service and with the addition of police and EMS, became the sole point for total dispatch of their municipal emergency services. In the fall of 1984, the Pennsylvania State Police, permitting us to obtain and input vehicle and crime information issued us a Commonwealth Law Enforcement Assistance Network (CLEAN) computer terminal.
1985 through 1989, the addition of 26 new communities relying on Westmoreland 9-1-1 for dispatch services. This brought a corresponding increase in the number of emergencies dealt with each day. Call volume rose over the 100,000 mark for the year and with the continuing addition of new municipalities, most recently those areas serviced by the now defunct Rainbow Control, call totals for the year 1991 totaled 256,565. This also necessitated an increase in the personnel needs of the 9-1-1 Center to a minimum of seven dispatchers and one supervisor per shift.
At the end of 1994, Westmoreland County 9-1-1 was dispatching 36 of the County's 43 municipal Police Departments, as are 21 of the County's 27 ambulance providers. We provide direct radio dispatch for 116 of the 118 fire stations located in Westmoreland County. This does not include five industrial fire departments. one of which is the Westmoreland County Airport Crash and Fire Rescue unit.
As Westmoreland 9-1-1 grew, the available expansion room provided in the dispatch area rapidly disappeared. In September 1989, planning began for a move to a new location. This new center, to be located in an office building across the street from the existing center in the Courthouse Square Annex, will serve to meet the space requirements of Westmoreland 9-1-1 well into the next century. The center located in the upper parking level of the Courthouse Square will be maintained in a fully functional state to serve as a primary backup in the event of a major breakdown at the new site. This has the advantage of being located in close enough proximity to the new location to permit rapid relocation of all dispatch services with a corresponding limit in the amount of missed calls. This backup will be tested on a weekly basis to ensure it will continue to perform if necessary.
The new center, to be primarily funded through administration of the Public Safety Emergency Telephone Act, was designed to provide emergency service dispatch on a county-side basis should those remaining independent services desire the county to assume dispatch duties for them.
At present, Westmoreland 9-1-1 provides direct fire dispatch for all municipalities within the county borders with the exception of the City of Monessen and the Borough of Latrobe.
Police dispatch, with the exception of municipalities relying on the Pennsylvania State Police for protection, is provided by Westmoreland County Radio along with only four additional police agencies: North Huntingdon, Greensburg, Monessen, and Murrysville.
A dedicated Centrex telephone line is available to all other dispatch points so that a caller can be directly connected to the appropriate dispatcher.
The original center was initially designed to dispatch fire units directly and only route police and EMS calls to the appropriate dispatch point.
It was quickly discovered that the initial design of the center, each dispatcher handling all calls for his particular County Fire Zone, (the county was broken into 4 zones) was not as effective as was first believed. With Westmoreland County as well as four additional counties all sharing the same fire dispatch frequency, County Fire Dispatch among two separate consoles, even if on a different transmitter, quickly proved to be nothing short of disastrous in the event of simultaneous dispatch to one specific console and preserve the other three radio consoles as backup in the event of an equipment failure of other problems.
With one dispatcher assigned solely to fire dispatch, the room assignments for the other dispatchers were necessarily altered. While each position continued to answer all 9-1-1 emergency telephone calls for their respective zones; the few remaining radio dispatch duties were reassigned to a particular console in the center, in order to improve the transfer of information form one emergency responder to another.
As the workload in the 9-1-1 center grew, with the addition of new municipalities and new radio dispatch duties, the console assignments again shifted to match these changes. When Westmoreland County Radio assumed police dispatch responsibilities, several radio control modules were removed form certain consoles and replaced with the appropriate police radio modules. These modules were connected to the corresponding transceiver, as are all the radio controls contained within the present center, by leased telephone lines. The county in most cases simply assumed control over the local transmitter utilized by the Police Department for whom we are now providing service. These transmitter locations, along with the initial fire transmitters and the newly acquired EMS bases, now form the basis of the radio network portion of Westmoreland 9-1-1. The fire frequencies were maintained in two of the consoles to continue to ensure redundancy of all capabilities.
All positions retained the ability to answer any incoming emergency phone call and deal with it accordingly; however, this growing workload necessitated the reassignment of answering positions. Each dispatcher then became responsible for answering a select number of lines to more evenly distribute the load. This marked the effective end of the zone dispatch system.
The addition of new municipalities for dispatch created no additional significant changes in the County Fire assignment, other than an increased workload. EMS duties along with Greensburg City Fire received their own dedicated dispatcher. The remaining consoles were left to share police dispatching duties.
In November of 1986, Westmoreland 9-1-1 introduced the first of our enhanced 9-1-1 features. New telephone units capable of providing ANI information was installed at all positions. This was a vast improvement over the basic 9-1-1 service previously supplied. Instead of waiting hours for a successful trace of an incoming call to the telephone company office.
Followed in 1988 with the addition of HDS terminals, provided by Bell of Pennsylvania, at all dispatcher positions including that of the Supervisor. Each operator position was now able to access a caller's location by entering the ANI supplied telephone number. This greatly enhanced the system by eliminating the necessity of a call to the phone company office. Additionally, the supervisory position was provided the capability of determining location information based on the caller's number and/or any partial information available in the event of a third party call or operator assisted connection.
In 1992, automatic ALI was installed in the current dispatch center.
As the number of municipal departments served by 9-1-1 continued to increase, additional police dispatch positions were provided to guarantee each received the appropriate attention. Redundancy was always the primary consideration as each transceiver utilized was provided a control module on at least two console positions. Dispatchers continued to handle the phone lines as before.
The new Westmoreland 9-1-1 system is staffed in such a manner to ensure that all emergency services, for which we provide dispatch, received the complete consideration they deserve.
The dispatch area has a total of fourteen radio dispatch consoles. Eight are dedicated to police dispatch and will have direct access via the CAD system to CLEAN information. Two are solely devoted to EMS dispatching and two are assigned fire-dispatching duties. There are two supervisory CRT positions provided as well as a training console.
As such, until Westmoreland 9-1-1 achieves dispatch responsibilities for all areas within Westmoreland County, some of the console positions may remain unmanned or be used for other functions until call volume justifies assigning a dispatcher to them.
The daily staffing of the 9-1-1 center was seven dispatchers and a shift supervisor. This staffing was the start-up staff of the present 9-1-1 center. In January of 1993 an additional dispatcher per shift was added to assist the fire dispatcher. In July of 1993 an additional dispatcher per shift was added to assist the EMS dispatcher. In January of 1994 an additional two dispatchers per daylight and evening shift and one dispatcher per midnight shift was added to cover call-taking positions.
Every time an additional dispatcher per shift is added, four new full-time positions will be created to cover that position twenty-four hours per day, 365 days per year. In addition, the part-time and temporary positions will be kept to assist with sick time, and off days.
As of January 1995, the center has a communications manager enhancement CAD coordinator, assistant CAD coordinator, training supervisor, five shift supervisors, 48 telecommunicators, and 12 temporary telecommunicators along with a secretary.
Currently all employees are certified as telecommunicators.
As of January 1995, the center is located on the first floor in the Courthouse Square Annex building falling under the Department of Public Safety. The building also houses the Records Department in the basement level, Westmoreland County Mental Health and Mental Retardation offices, and the Westmoreland County Adult Probation (pre-sentencing division) on the first level.
Each of the fifteen dispatch positions provided in the center, including the supervisory positions are equipped with a telephone unit capable of supplying the operator with full ANI and ALI information instantaneously upon answering a call. These positions have radio type headsets including a microphone and earphone to enhance call efficiency. The telephone units have the capability of directly transferring the call to the proper PSAP for the area and nature; in the event Westmoreland 9-1-1 does not yet handle dispatch responsibilities for it.
In addition to the ALI supplied information automatically provided upon answering the telephone, the supervisory position is provided with a special computer terminal capable of accessing the location based upon receiving only partial information from a caller on one of the operator assisted lines to be included on the telephone switchboard, or in the case of a caller reporting an emergency situation as a third party.
As part of the initial design for the newest 9-1-1 center, Westmoreland County initiated the use of microwave transmitter to lessen our dependence on leased telephone lines as well as decreasing the cost factor. Initially a microwave unit was installed at the "Bear Cave" site, traditionally the first and most frequently lost site due to telephone lines being downed as a result of severe weather, vandalism, or accident. This unit was matched by line of sight to a unit located on the roof of the Courthouse Square.
A newly hired telecommunicator trainee is required to attend a minimum of 400 hours of "in-house" classroom training. This training course is geared to meet the needs and particular circumstances in Westmoreland County along with providing the trainee with APCO 40-hour training course. Some of the information covered in the training course is as follows:
- General departmental SOP. S
- County geography
- Telephone answering procedures
- Basic radio techniques
- CAD operations
- NCIC / CLEAN
- Police, EMS, fire dispatch procedures
- Emergency medical dispatch
A trainee must take written quizzes and exams throughout this training period. At the end of this training period a final exam is given. In order to move into the next phase of training, a score of 85% or more must be achieved. This will remove candidates who lack the ability to perform dispatch duties before they even reach a radio console.
In the next phase of training, a trainee must spend a minimum of 240 hours paired with a veteran dispatcher, before being moved into a temporary dispatcher status, in which they are now considered able to handle dispatch duties by themselves.
The trainee receives input from a number of sources in the organization, from the initial instructor who provides them with their first glimpse of life as 9-1-1 telecommunicator and stays with the trainee through the entire training process, to the full-time telecommunicator they are paired with as their final stop to status as a Temporary employee with the department. We have found through the years that this procedure will create a telecommunication more fully suited to the particular demands of Westmoreland 9-1-1 than will any standard training course. Although, any dispatcher training program that is developed is evaluated fully to determine if it would suit our needs.