Chamber Business of the Week
BY MARY NICHOLAS
The West Plains Chamber of Commerce has named Howell County 911 as its Business of the Week.
Howell County 911 Emergency Services will mark 25 years of public service in the community on Aug. 31 and is opening its doors to citizens for an open house event on Aug. 23. Also, the West Plains Chamber of Commerce has chosen to recognize the governmental entity as its Business of the Week.
“We appreciate being selected by the chamber and will continue to strive to serve our community,” said Administrator Steve Gleghorn. “I’m very proud of our dispatchers and employees. They are very dedicated and professional. I just want to show them off, so to speak, on the 23rd. Everyone is invited to come and meet them, let the public see who they’re talking to in an emergency. We call it the voice in the darkness. Put a face with the voice.
“We also want to thank the public for letting us do this,” he continued. “Without the tax bill that passed overwhelmingly in 2008, we wouldn’t be able to operate like we do. We wouldn’t be able to provide these services to Howell County like we have for the past 25 years.”
The open house will take place from noon to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, inside the 911 facilities located in the basement of the Howell County Office Building on the square.
“We will show the facilities, serve snacks, and the community will be able to meet the board and the staff,” said Gleghorn. “We’ll be able to demonstrate the CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system and how we operate…around calls of course.”
Howell County 911 Emergency Services is a PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point), a governmental entity, governed by a seven-man board, owned by the citizens of Howell County and supported by sales tax. When 911 services first came to Howell County in 1992, it was under county commission and located in the basement of the courthouse.
In 1996, the base was moved and operated for several years out of the Howell County Sheriff’s Office. In 2006, it moved to its current location in the Howell County Office Building.
“Here we are protected from weather, we have our own generators and our own uninterrupted power source,” Gleghorn said. “During the flood, we ran several hours on generators till the city got back on the grid. We never went off air, we kept taking phone calls and continued dispatching.”
In 2008, the entity experienced one of its biggest changes. As land lines dwindled under the popular shadow of cellular phones, the services of 911 saw its funding drying up as its surcharge on land lines diminished. The growth of the county and rising demand for services was rapidly overwhelming the funding.
“In 2007, the advisory board decided to try to introduce a tax and in August 2008, we ran the tax. It passed overwhelmingly,” said Gleghorn. “It’s been a good transition to go to tax-based, to be able to offer the public these services which we wouldn’t be able to on the surcharge.”
In 2016, due to the new source of revenue, the entity was able to add the CAD system, cutting down on response times. Not only does the system provide the address and aerial mapping, but is a more efficient way to find what departments or entities are involved at each particular address or location.
The CAD system supplies a list of recommendations of which fire department, ambulance and police department is available and would be the most sufficient for response to the crisis. Immediately, the system sends out text alerts to responders’ cell phones and fire stations, letting them know the location and whether its medical, fire, etc.
“It has cut down on response time immensely which is very good for the people of Howell County,” said Gleghorn. “It allows us to better analyze how we are doing things. The records it keeps are amazing. The phone system allows us to go in and tell an average of how long it takes us to answer a call, how long a call is on, how many times it rings before a call is answered.”
According to online records, answering a 911 call within 10 seconds is the goal for emergency services.
“We are above the national average,” said Gleghorn. “Last month, it was showing that we were answering calls within two seconds as an average so that is very good.”
Howell County 911 Emergency Services employs 13 people: an administrator, an IT-GIS manager, a dispatch supervisor and 10 dispatchers. The board consists of seven elected members, three of whom are elected by the northern part of the county, three elected by the southern part and the chair elected at large.
Currently, board members are Chair Ralph Riggs, Vice Chair Terry Newton, Treasurer Asa Grennan, Secretary Mike Walters and members Andi Ingalsbe, Verlin Bunch and Nick Heavirn.
“I had someone ask me once what it’s like to work for a seven-man board and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. I work for 44,000 people – everyone in Howell County,’” recalled Gleghorn with a smile. “We work for the people themselves. That’s why I have so much pride in the staff, for their dedication and compassion for the people in the county.
“A lot of people don’t realize what is going on down here, what’s happening in the background and we are very fortunate that we are an enhanced 911 with location capabilities not only on landlines but also on cellular. We’ve grown leaps and bounds. For being in south central Missouri, we’re very progressive. I’m very proud of the board, very proud of the staff, and they take pride in what they do.”
Employees, said Gleghorn, know no difference between a Monday and a holiday, a weekend or a shift in the early morning hours.
“It’s kind of a thankless job at times,” said Gleghorn. “We’re always here. Everybody knows our number but they don’t really think about it until they actually dial it which is fine but that’s why we are here. We’re here for the community and the people to make sure they get the help they need in a timely manner.
“With the new equipment we’ve got, we’ve been able to knock that [response] time down and it’s hopefully saving lives and saving property. That’s the bottom line with all emergency services, is that we get people the help they need in a timely fashion. Our interaction with the customer is generally in a crisis mode. That’s what we prepare for, that’s what we’re trained for and that’s what we’re good at.
“We’re always here.”