You wouldn’t recognize them at the grocery store, at the ball fields, or in church; but they are unsung heroes in Conway and Faulkner County. Their job doesn’t come with a uniform like a police officer or fire fighter; but it’s just as important. They are 911 dispatchers, the ever calm voice in times of panic.
Dispatchers work 12-hour shifts, just like our uniformed rescuers; and every four weeks switch from working days to working nights. Turnover is high in their field. The work and the environment are high-stress.
Faulkner County’s 911 dispatchers are housed at the Conway Emergency Operations Center on Hogan Road. It is a secure, "bunker-like" facility—home to millions of dollars of technology. Dispatchers sit in a dark room. They stare at multiple flat screens while wearing head sets; yet the carpet beneath them is spotted and threadbare. Their chairs, where they sit for 12 hours straight, are worn down. It’s obvious the place needs some work.
Built in the late 1990s the operations center hasn’t been touched since with lighting upgrades, new flooring, or fresh paint. Investment in the facility focused on technology, not the dispatchers themselves. Thanks to a recent, approximately $60,000 grant that’s all about to change.
Candy Jones, the city’s grant administrator, applied in August for the money and just found out she got it. Jones says this grant was a rare, co-applicant situation. Cities and counties almost never apply for money together. In the application Jones explained the need for the updates as follows, "The Conway police department and Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office are committed to protecting and serving the citizens of Conway and Faulkner County. The Emergency Operations Center is critical to creating a safer city and county in which to raise our families…promoting a brighter future for all cultures in the city of Conway and Faulkner County."
The grant roughly shakes out like this:
• $19,690 for new flooring
• $19,110 for paint
• $10,565 for eight new operator chairs
• $8,080 for an outdoor arbor
• $1,374 for hanging lights
Conway police department Lieutenant Lloyd Smith who runs the dispatch center, said it’s been neglected far too long. "The lights are so old the ballast costs more than one hundred dollars each time we replace the bulb. The carpet has been walked on 24/7 for fifteen years."
Smith says it will do wonders to boost morale to have an outdoor space to sit down just to get away from the stressfulness of the job. "Dispatchers get dumped on by citizens and non-citizens. They deal with nasty stuff on the phone and the radio," says Lt. Smith, "people forget they’re here until there’s an emergency." Smith says he’s thrilled that the current group of city leaders is dedicated to the upgrades. He’s confident having a nicer place to work will lead to employee retention. You see, it takes months, even up to a year to get a new employee trained and certified. When just one quits, that means the others who work that shift don’t get breaks and take more calls.
Built more than twenty years ago the facility also houses the emergency operations center room. It’s where county and city leaders would gather during a large disaster like a tornado. The big conference room is equipped with satellite phones, weather radar, and all the bells and whistles you’d need in a time like that. That room will also be getting new carpet, new lights, and new paint.
Originally the city and county were going to split the cost of the renovations, the grant will allow each to save tens of thousands of dollars in construction costs and countless more in increased employee retention. The project is set to begin in November and be complete in January.
Melissa Gates is the Communications Specialist for the city of Conway. For more information visit www.cityofconway.org or follow @thecityofconway on Twitter.