We're Building A Better Tri-State Together
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Joint Central Dispatch Instrumental in Times of Crisis — Like the Recent Home Explosion Tragedy

Police and Fire Departments, sheriffs and ambulances are dispatched through the efforts of one organization.

Telecommunicator Carol Anderson was working the day of the explosion on Weinbach Avenue, where three people lost their lives.

“We knew that something had happened because all of a sudden, all of our phone lines lit up,” said the 34-year dispatch center veteran.

She assumed it was for a severe car crash. When she realized it was for a house explosion, she didn’t even have time to process it.

You just go into work mode,” she said. “It was all hands on deck. And people from up front came running back to the back to get signed in to the computer to help out as well.”

She said the dispatch center was busy for more than an hour, which also happens during a big storm. It kicked off a significant event involving 14 emergency agencies including police, fire ATF and the power utility. But they were all orchestrated by the Joint Central Dispatch in Evansville.

This is the organization that handles all emergency calls in Vanderburgh County. Housed in an unassuming building in Evansville on Harmony Way, a minimum of six staff members are on the job at any given time.

They sit behind desks with multiple monitors, taking calls and basically trying to get the caller the help they need.

Leslie Buckman is director of the dispatch.

“The role of a 911 dispatcher is not just to answer the phone, and to take information,” she said. “There are times when they have to answer the phone and answer questions for someone, maybe someone just has a problem, and they need to talk to someone and figure out what they need to do about that particular problem. There are other times when someone will call in, and all they need is an ambulance.”

When Buckman started as a dispatcher in 1987, call-takers filled out a run sheet with pen and paper. Originally there were several separate agencies, which consolidated here in the mid 1990s.

She said today, each dispatcher does a different job every day. “It helps them stay proficient in all the positions,” she said.

Central Dispatch_aug 22-2.jpg
Tim Jagielo
Dispatch center employees are called "telecommunicators." Carol Anderson has a 34-year career so far.

When someone calls with an emergency it is tagged with a “nature code.” And there are hundreds of these, said Buckman.

Rattling a few off, she said, “we have customer trouble, commercial structure fire, custody dispute, intoxicated driver intoxicated person, domestic violence in progress … indecent exposure … found property. Hazmat spill. I mean, it just goes on and on. I mean, the list is hundreds long.”

She said “motor vehicle crash” and “property damage” are the most used nature codes on their run cards. She says “Oil well fire" is one she’s never seen used.

Calls involving mental health happen fairly often.

“It could be someone needing to talk to someone and then if that's the case, we can get them connected to the right person. They might need to go to the hospital for any reason — mental health reason.”

Buckman said dispatchers can’t always disconnect emotionally from what they’re doing. Sometimes they’re familiar with the neighborhood and may know someone nearby or caller themselves, or they could be sending police to a dangerous situation.

“When that 911 dispatcher picks up the phone, they have no idea. It could be a 911 Hang up, where someone accidentally dialed 911. It could be a child dying. It could be someone needing a vehicle check. It's just you, you don't know till you answer the phone and find out.”

Dispatcher Carol Anderson says only after the heavy work at the dispatch center was done , did the reality of the explosion sink in to them.

“There still are people there that are affected by this, their homes, they've lost everything that they've had … their loved ones … I can't even imagine.”

Like a lot of emergency response agencies, dispatch is hiring. Buckman says they’re looking for six “telecommunicators” (dispatchers) currently.

Buckman says they should be able to multi-task fairly well, have common sense and pass a background check.

“It's a very, it's a very detailed and a very important job,” Buckman said. “And I do think that a lot of people don't realize that.”