MARION — Working as a 911 dispatcher is anything but easy. Long hours, taking calls from people in desperate situations and rarely knowing how the people in those situations fared can take a toll.
That’s just one of the reasons Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale chose to appoint Rhonda Kaczinski as the Marion 911 Communications Center’s new manager.
“(Kaczinski) brings more than 20 years of dispatching experience to the position,” he told The Gazette last month. “She will be the 911 center’s first-ever civilian manager and the first one who has actual experience as a dispatcher.”
Up until Kaczinski’s appointment, McHale said the 911 center was overseen by sworn officers who had little to no experience in 911 dispatch operations.
“For those officers, it was kind of a two-fold role,” Kaczinski said. “They had this supervisory role over the 911 center, but they were also police officers and had duties on that side too. So they were really only able to focus on maintaining the 911 center as best they could. They didn’t really have the time or the experience to focus on protocols or quality control. So, the chief saw the need for supervision from someone who had actual experience in dispatching, and here I am.”
In his five-year strategic plan, McHale laid out a detailed proposal for 911 center upgrades that included more personnel, better and broader training and tiered leadership. His goal, he said, is to ensure every emergency call receives the same quality of attention and service.
And that’s not to imply that the dispatch center is in disarray, Kaczinski said, but some changes could improve quality and efficiency.
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“The dispatchers that we have are great at what they do,” she said. “They are great at gathering the needed information and quickly dispatching resources, but there are small procedural things that can make the process easier for the operators to do their job and more efficient for the callers and first responders.”
First, Kaczinski said, the center needs more people on each shift. The goal, she said, is to have enough people to separate the intake of calls from the dispatching of resources. Additionally, she said, they would like to add a tier of supervisors to work under Kaczinski, but over the dispatchers so there can be a supervisor on duty at all times who can step in when an operator needs help and ensure consistent quality.
“Segregating out the call takers from the dispatchers ... will give them time to gather information and communicate with officers,” she said. “Doing this will increase efficiency for the call taker and for the dispatcher, as well as help with officer safety and making sure the officers have all the information they need to safely respond to calls.”
In her 21 years as a dispatcher, Kaczinski said 911 operations have changed dramatically.
“Over the years, there’s been a significant increase in calls coming in and the types of calls coming in,” she said. “And with technology those calls have increased even more. With cellphones, now when there is an accident, we get 10 calls instead of one or two, and we have to answer all those calls.”
Additionally, she said, the nature of 911 calls have changed.
“We’ve gone from only handling emergency situations to getting calls from people needing information or calling about non-emergency issues,” she said. “A lot of people call us now because they don’t know who to call. All of that ties up resources that need to be available for serious emergencies.”
And making sure those resources are available is where Kaczinski’s experience as a dispatcher and her understanding of 911 operations can really come in handy, she said.
“I know the toll that the job can take,” she said. “And I think I can help make this center better for the dispatchers and better for the callers. And, I hope that with the years that I’ve been here and the years that I’ve worked here with these dispatchers, that they are comfortable with me being in this position, and we can continue to build on the relationship that we have and make it stronger.”
“I’m thrilled to pieces to take on this position,” she added. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I am confident we can reach our goals and make the improvements we need to ensure we’re providing the best service possible to our citizens and our first responders.”
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