The latest tool to help protect Monroe County residents recently became fully operational, as the county’s new 911 dispatch center became fully functional in the basement of the courthouse on Nov. 23.
“It’s definitely going to help keep Monroe County safe,” Monroe County 911 Board Chairman Lynden Prange said of the new facility.
Monroe County Public Safety Director Kevin Scheibe said he is “very proud of” the new center.
“The newly built 911 dispatch center is a state-of-the-art dispatch center that all Monroe County residents should be proud of,” he said.
In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was rising, an outbreak of the virus happened in the Monroe County Jail, which caused the center to be moved.
The dispatch center was located in the middle of what Scheibe called the “hot zone,” so, to ensure the safety of communication officers, the dispatch center was temporarily evacuated and relocated to the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center.
That facility already supplied partial operations of communication capabilities during a disaster. The movement to the EOC consisted of many emergent hours by various people, companies and departments.
“Basically, what happened is the jail population came down with COVID, so we wanted to isolate the dispatchers so they didn’t catch the virus,” Prange explained. “If our whole corps of dispatchers would get sick, then we would have no dispatchers.”
The move had been one that law enforcement leaders had been considering for some time.
In February, Scheibe and Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing initiated discussion of the movement beginning the year of 2021. Due to the COVID outbreak, this long-term project was expedited.
“We’ve been talking for the last couple years about moving the dispatch center out of the sheriff’s department and into the courthouse, and it just didn’t work because we didn’t have the space and we didn’t have the funding or things of that nature,” Prange said.
The county’s law enforcement, including Scheibe, Rohlfing, the 911 board and dispatch teams, agreed the move was the right choice.
The highway department moved to the Monroe County Annex last year, which freed up space to put the dispatch center in that former office.
That involved remodeling the space to suit its new purpose and to ensure it met the standards set by the Illinois State Police.
“Illinois State Police has many guidelines that I had to follow and get approved,” Scheibe said. “There are 198 pages of standards that had to be read and followed referencing safety of the facility, communication requirements, emergency back-up power supply, networking requirements, etc.”
The county also took the opportunity to add a third console and room for a fourth one, as the previous two consoles could become overworked with the increase in calls for service in recent years.
“When I was planning and building this new 911 center, I also took into consideration of Monroe County’s growth and continued growing,” Scheibe said. “The old dispatch center had barely enough room for two dispatch consoles, but we made it work. This center was built with three stations readily available at all times. Construction teams built the center with an option to have four stations in the dispatch center. I did this for future growth, as well as, when training new 911 dispatchers, there is ample room for training. This will also allow other agencies to dispatch from the Monroe County Sheriff‘s Department dispatch center if a disaster would occur and the need to use this center as a back-up.”
All told, each dispatch station has eight monitors that are used for various functions including radio operations, law enforcement safety, license plate reading and administrative phone operations.
The center also has wall monitors used to track first responder vehicle locations.
“Dispatchers are able to view at all times where law enforcement, EMS vehicles are at,” Scheibe noted. “They can monitor for safety of all responding as well as monitor arrivals of emergency calls to residents when on the phone.”
Additionally, the county upgraded some of the computers and the increasingly obsolete old consoles.
All of this cost over $200,000, with that money coming from the sheriff’s department and 911 board funding.
The 911 center receives all calls from landlines to cellular calls. Cell calls can be traced even if nobody answers or does not talk. The calls are located in almost pinpoint areas.
“My goal is to have Monroe County set up with the ability to receive 911 calls via text massaging by the end of June,” Scheibe said. “I just sent a grant for this project to Illinois State Police on Jan. 28. I will then present to the 911 board requesting we move forward with the important option for all county residents to have and be able to utilize.”