While the Enhanced 911 system can identify all land line calls, not all calls from cellular phones can be identified. The Ponca City Communications Center has incoming phone lines from Phase One of the Enhanced 911 system that identify only the number of the incoming cellular call. We also have Phase Two lines which will identify both the number and the location within 100 meters of the incoming cellular call from the major cell providers. The equipment’s ability to identify cell phone callers is dependent on the caller’s cellular phone company. Some of the smaller cellular service companies still have yet to upgrade their technology to provide this information for emergency services.
The Ponca City Communications Center currently employs eleven full time dispatchers whose years of experience and expertise has proven their mettle. A dispatcher must be a quick-thinker, cool and calm in the midst of crises, and must have an incredible ability to multi-task. When a citizen calls in with an emergency, the dispatcher must be able to obtain vital information that will enable the correct emergency responders to be quickly sent to the scene, reassuring and calming the often distraught caller; at the same time, the dispatcher must be able to relay the facts of the situation to the officer or officers called to respond to the need; plus, he or she may also¸ concurrently, be in contact with a responding agency (a fire department, for example, or perhaps an ambulance or the hospital). As if that wasn’t enough, from the moment that the call first comes in, the dispatcher is busy keying information into the computer. “Multi-tasking” somehow isn’t an inclusive enough word to describe the job of a Communications Center dispatcher!
A dispatcher is always ready to receive calls, either from the public or from officers or other responders. Each dispatcher wears a headset which can be activated by either “push to talk” units worn around the waist or by foot pedal when they are sitting at the desk. Microphones are another tool the dispatcher has at his or her disposal. Even when momentarily away from the desk, the dispatcher is still in contact and able to receive calls, take information from reporting parties and communicate with responders until returning to the computer desk.
New hires go through three or more months of intensive training, followed by a six month probationary period during which they are tested again and again in all kinds of situations. Communications Center employees do more than answer emergency calls and dispatch police, fire, ambulance or other assistance as needed. When an officer on patrol makes a traffic stop, he or she will call the Communications Center to ask for a look-up of information on the vehicle or vehicles stopped; the dispatcher use a teletype machine to access the databases of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), providing the officer with vehicle tag, driver’s license and other information. In this way, a routine traffic stop may unearth, for example, a stolen vehicle or someone for whom a warrant is outstanding – and another crime is on its way to being solved. NCIC response is almost immediate. Given the proper identifiers, they can also determine if a person has been entered as a runaway, missing person, endangered or more; and with that return comes the contact information for the law enforcement agency that originated the investigation. The Communications Center dispatcher will relay that information to the officer making the contact.
The Communications Center dispatchers monitor emergency alarm systems for hundreds of area businesses and residences; when a burglar alarm goes off at a place of business, an alarm also goes off in the Communications Center to alert them to follow up quickly on that need.
The Communications Center likewise monitors weather conditions and they have quick access to all the city and county utilities in case of emergency. After office hours, emergency calls to Ponca City utilities for water or electrical help are also answered at the Communications Center.
In addition, they dispatchers also monitor the Detention Center by video surveillance. There are video cameras throughout the jail and Communications Center staff people are ready to act in case there is a need for assistance of some kind. In addition the Communication personnel is called upon from time to time to assist with the searches of new, incoming prisoners.
The staff of the Ponca City Communications Center carry certifications from a multitude of issuing organizations, all of which attest to their extensive training and expertise. Some of those include: the Association of Public Safety Communication Officers, Oklahoma Law Enforcement Training System Specialists (NCIC); they are certified in CPR.
The Communications Center is equipped with Motorola Centracom Elite computerized radios which enable the dispatchers to be in near-constant contact with officers and responders. The push of a button on the screen shown here puts them in contact with specific fire departments, ambulance services and other emergency agencies. When a hard wire or land line call comes in, the specialized telephone equipment identifies which responding agency is the closest to the caller’s location so the dispatcher knows immediately, for example, which fire station needs to respond.
When a call comes in from John Q Citizen with an emergency, it is answered in one of two ways: if it is a land call, the dispatcher says, “911 – what is your emergency?” If it is a cell phone call, the caller may not know which town or city has received his 911 call and so cellular calls are answered, “Ponca City 911.” The dispatcher’s first task when the call comes in is to determine the problem or the need of the caller. They try to get as much information as they can in order to give the caller the help needed; the dispatcher will gain the information necessary to pass along to the emergency responder. Does the caller need police, fire or an ambulance? While they are still on the phone with the caller, the dispatcher is simultaneously communicating with the correct responder alerting them to stand ready to respond – within only moments; the dispatcher is relaying the information necessary for that responder to know what the nature of the call is and where help is needed.
The Ponca City Communications Center is unique in that it receives and dispatches emergency calls from Northeast portion of Kay County – extending clear to the Oklahoma-Kansas state line. They dispatch to nine volunteer fire departments (McCord, Osage, Kildare, Newkirk, Marland and more, transfer calls to some smaller police departments, as well as to three other communications centers in Tonkawa, Blackwell and Kay County; they also dispatch ambulances to Noble County. Some cell calls from Osage County 911 calls come into Ponca City’s Communications Center as well, and they are dispatched or transferred to the correct local responders. Some area Oklahoma Highway Patrol calls are also dispatched through the Ponca City Communications Center.
The citizens and government of Ponca City can be very proud of their Communications Center. It is well run, well equipped and staffed by dedicated, trained, loyal and caring dispatchers who work day and night to assure that anyone in this community (and beyond) who is in need of help will find it just a telephone call away.