Local E-911 operators eager to move into new public safety building

T-R FILE PHOTO - Communications Operator Dan McCready, left, watches a large monitor, upper right, which shows various exterior locations around the Marshalltown Police Department building, 22 N. Center St. It also monitors the facility’s lobby, open 24/7365. To the right is McCready’s colleague, Tammy Bowman.

Be it June 15 or later, the 13 professionals currently working behind the scenes as E-911 communications operators can’t wait to move onto the second floor of the new joint police and fire headquarters.

Consoles and more have been installed.

June 15 is the estimated opening date of the complex under construction in the 900 block of South Second Street.

The caveat “or later” may be necessary, since the mammoth building’s opening has been delayed. City officials initially estimated a December 2018 opening. That was revised to March 2019 and then June 15.

Weather and construction material delays have been contributing factors.

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY - Pictured is a portion of the new Marshal County 911 Operations Center on the second floor of the joint-Marshalltown Police and Fire Department building under construction n the 900 block of South Second Street.

“We are looking forward to moving into a professional setting that will stay dry and have windows,” operator Tammy Bowman said Friday.

She was contrasting the new digs versus their current location — the basement of the Marshalltown Police Department headquarters at 22 N. Center St.

Basement or not — it is the control center for the Marshall County Communications Center.

There are no windows and the area has been prone to flooding after heavy rains, endangering equipment. The area has experienced sewer back-ups.

Whatever the opening date, E-911 operators will take it in stride, something they are used to doing. Regardless of it being wet or dry, the E-911 staff dispatch deputies, firemen and police officers when seconds count. They are responsible for keeping track of more than 1,000 arrest warrants and no contact orders.

More than 75,000 E-911 and administrative calls were taken in 2017. Five months of training is required before a dispatcher can start day one on the job.

Operators work three 12-hour shifts and one four-hour shift, Bowman said. Bowman and her colleague Allie Erickson said they would recommend the job to a high school student contemplating career options.

According to 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 98,600 emergency dispatchers working in the United States, with job growth above average at 8 percent.

“Being an operator can be a great career,” Bowman said. “One does need a college degree, so one can get a good paying job without having to worry about paying off college loans. And one can retire at 55 too. Perseverance and grit are required to be successful. You absolutely can not give up … you can not walk away from a situation.”

Each operator’s work station is surrounded by six large computer monitors where they diligently watch activity outside the MPD building and its lobby, maps denoting the location of law enforcement personnel and weather. Other tools includes access to a national criminal database and driver’s licensing information to assist law enforcement.

The operators dispatchers are in the middle of significant transitions. In 2018, all operators moved from MPD control to the recently-formed Marshall County Communications Commission.

The Marshall County Communications Commission is comprised of Marshall County mayors and designees, along with Marshall County Sheriff Steve Hoffman and Marshall County Supervisor Bill Patten. Mayor Joel Greer represents Marshalltown.

Recently, the city and Marshall County Communications Commission agreed on a $1 per year rent for E-911 area. Greer said the city and E-911 board will review the fee annually. Implementation of a different funding formula led to the change.

All E-911 expenses — from salaries to equipment to supplies — will be paid from a levy applied to every property in the county. This levy will appear on each property owner’s tax bill.

For many years previously, E-911 expenses were paid by 38 cents levy applied to county residents and 62 percent to city residents. That was based on Marshall County’s census data showing 38 percent of the county’s population lived in rural areas, while 62 percent lived in Marshalltown. Additionally, telephone land line and cell phone users also paid a fee listed on the telephone or cell phone carrier’s customer bill.

A second transition can as they absorbed work done by four UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown medical operators who once dispatched UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown ambulances after receiving calls from E-911 operators. UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown eliminated those positions last year in a cost-cutting move.

However, they did provide software to the E-911 operators for training purposes.

Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper has frequently said E-911 operators have one of the toughest jobs in law enforcement.

MPD personnel took Tupper’s words to heart — on Friday, Bowman’s and Erickson’s work areas were surrounded by boxes of doughnuts and gifts to help the operators celebrate National Public Safety Communicators Week which ended Saturday.