Maries County Commissioners approve 911 software, training

By Colin Willard, Staff Writer
Posted 11/23/22

VIENNA — Maries County Chief Deputy Scott John and county IT manager Shane Sweno joined the Maries County Commission at its Nov. 17 meeting to continue a discussion about new 911 dispatch …

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Maries County Commissioners approve 911 software, training

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VIENNA — Maries County Chief Deputy Scott John and county IT manager Shane Sweno joined the Maries County Commission at its Nov. 17 meeting to continue a discussion about new 911 dispatch training and software.

At the Nov. 3 meeting, Sweno gave the commissioners a $9,100 quote from PowerPhone, a company that provides Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) training and software to 911 dispatchers. The software prompts dispatchers to ask standardized questions or gives instructions to callers on how to handle situations requiring skills such as CPR or bleeding control.

The commissioners talked to John on the phone at the Nov. 3 meeting, but they said they did not want to decide until John and Sweno could both be present at a meeting. After hearing from both John and Sweno at the Nov. 17 meeting, the commissioners decided to fund the EMD training and software through PowerPhone.

Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman asked John and Sweno to tell the commissioners why they should fund the program.

“It walks them (dispatchers) through every call type: fire, police or medical,” Sweno said. “It gives them the question to ask at the right time. It gives them solid footing when someone calls 911.”

Stratman asked for clarification that the program covers all training.

“If you keep up with the annual maintenance, it takes care of all state training requirements,” Sweno said. “It’s all virtual, so there’s no need to send people off to class.”

If the county maintains the annual fee, the cost would cover training for any number of dispatchers year-round.

John said that two separate costs combine to form the $5,000 annual maintenance fee. Software maintenance costs about $2,300 per year, and access to the training portal, which the dispatchers could use to access training videos and other materials, costs an extra $2,700 per year.

“We’ve had this once before,” John said. “It was not the training portal but the software. We weren’t ready for it then. If we get tight in the future, you can discontinue the training portal.”

Dispatch training statutes require 40 hours of telecommunicator training within six months of someone’s hiring. After initial training, a dispatcher only needs 24 more hours of training every three years.

“That’s one eight-hour training a year,” John said. “A lot of times we can find those for free in Jefferson City or Rolla.”

When the county first tried using the software, only one dispatcher was on duty at any time.

“The problem with it is that the one dispatcher that is operating that is now tied up on the computer and the phone,” John said. “You can’t get on the radio with fire, EMS, police or be on the phone with anybody else that’s calling in. But now that we have a second dispatcher it’s feasible that we could pull it off.”

Stratman asked how often two dispatchers work at the same time. John told him that the sheriff’s office would like it to be from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. Right now, they only have the staff to have two dispatchers cover those hours five days a week. Two dispatchers work part of those hours on the sixth day. One day of the week, only one dispatcher is on shift at any given time.

“We’re close,” John said. “Probably one more part-time hire and we’ll be there.”

Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel asked John for dispatch’s busiest time of the day. John said the busiest times of day are when people wake up in the morning and when people get home from work in the evening because that is when they tend to notice something wrong, such as stolen items. Those are also the times of day when roads see the highest traffic volume.

Stratman showed concern that if the dispatchers spent more time giving instructions on the phone, they would not have enough time to feed the prisoners. John said in the mornings and early afternoons, a cook takes care of the prisoners’ meals. Dispatchers only need to spend about 15 minutes per night handing out dinners that the cook prepared.

“We’ve been able to pull a lot of the pressure of the jail off dispatch by putting her back there doing that,” John said.

John’s biggest concern is that dispatchers are still catching up on training.

“They’re still learning the basics,” he said. “Adding that (software) to their training regimen is feasible, but we’re really stacking a lot on their shoulders. I think that we’ll probably be ready in a few months. We have a really good core group of people down there right now. My thought is let’s go ahead and verbally commit to it if we can afford it and then try to launch it in a few months.”

Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre asked John what he meant by “a few months.” John estimated the county would be ready by February or March.

“It depends on how fast everything goes downstairs,” John said. “Everybody learns at different paces.

“My thought process is to give them the tools now that they need, so they can be ready to go on their own,” Sweno said.

Drewel asked Sweno how long the quoted price was available. Sweno said he believed it was valid through the end of December.

“They’re giving us a heck of a deal,” Sweno said. “They’re trying like heck to get us onboard, and I don’t see it getting any cheaper. We have a golden egg here that we should latch onto if we’re going to do this.”

The $9,100 quote is about half the price of the initial quote Sweno received. He said that the company lowered the price because the county was a prior customer.

“I’d hate to lose a discount,” Fagre said.

Stratman asked John and Sweno if they were on the same page about wanting to get the program.

“It’s a national standard to have this,” John replied. “It’s not mandated because there are small, rural counties that can’t pull it off.”

“So you think it’s a good deal, but you just think it’s too early?” Drewel asked John.

“It’s an excellent program,” John said. “Excellent program. Absolutely, it’s going to make our dispatching center more effective, and it’s going to give life-saving instructions to people before first responders can get to them. We’re in a lot better shape to do it now than we’ve ever been.”

Drewel asked if the program could save someone’s life before emergency services arrived at the scene. When John said yes, Drewel asked “So what is that worth?”

“That’s for you guys to decide,” John told the commission. “911 constantly operates in the red. We don’t have enough money. You know that.”

Stratman asked the other commissioners what they thought of the program.

“I say spend the money,” Drewel said. The other commissioners agreed.

“Send us that paperwork,” Stratman said.

Treasurer Rhonda Slone asked from where the commissioners were pulling the funding. She suggested the money could come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds the county had allocated for the general revenue fund. Stratman agreed.

Repeaters

In other business, Maries-Osage Ambulance District (MOAD) administrator Carla Butler visited the meeting to discuss payment for repairs to the south repeater that MOAD uses to boost radio signals. At the Nov. 14 MOAD board meeting, the district’s board approved a motion to split the $1,080 repeater repair bill with the county. A condition required that a MOAD representative ask the commissioners to write a plan to split future bills between all entities that used the repeater.

The repeater is in the county’s name, but John told Stratman that the county only uses the repeater to talk to entities that use the repeater, such as MOAD, Dixon Fire, Vienna Fire and Vienna Police Department. The sheriff’s office uses digital towers for its main communication.

Stratman said he would like to have Maries County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Skouby write up an official statement that clarified responsibilities for future repairs to both the south and north repeaters.

Courthouse Updates

At the week’s commission meetings, Stratman gave a few updates from around the courthouse. He said that Brad Neier had taken measurements and committed to installing a counter in the treasurer’s office. He said Neier will also take apart an old bench in the courtroom.

The commissioners have also been talking to John about securing some of the courthouse’s exits.

“He (John) said that if a prisoner gets away they have their whole run of the courthouse and three or four entrances to get out of,” Stratman said. He also wants to add electric locks to some of the doors that would require someone to let courthouse visitors through those entrances.

“We won’t have to worry about any inmates running out the door,” John said. “We can keep everything locked down.”

Stratman said he had removed leaves from the courthouse roof and window wells. He had also contacted Cody Wieberg to trim some of the trees around the courthouse.

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