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News : Grand Forks 911 Center Continues Handling a Higher Call Volume


Grand Forks, ND, USA, June 26, 2018 -- It's 2018, and the Grand Forks 911 center only continues to grow in the calls it receives and dispatches.

For the 2019 budget season, the city's public safety answering point—or, PSAP—has requested a new staff member to answer calls and dispatch emergency responders. Pending city approval in July, PSAP director Becky Ault said this would make a total of 17 dispatchers, three to four of whom are on duty at any given time.

Ault will use the new dispatcher to create a power shift from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., she said, the center's busiest time. A new staff member also will help tackle an increase in calls over the years— according to PSAP's 2017 Annual Report, the center had an increase of 21.13 percent from 2013 in service calls, when a dispatcher calls for first responders. PSAP reported it had received 119,474 calls, both 911 and nonemergency, last year.

Ault said her center is most likely handling more calls because of the city's population growth. "All those kinds of things just grow as your population grows," Ault said of emergencies. Most notably, Ault said her center has experienced a spike in the time dispatchers spend on the phone, indicating PSAP is likely getting more involved calls, such as welfare checks and drug overdoses. In her budget presentation to the City Council earlier this month, Ault said her staff spent 2,700 hours on the phone in 2017, compared to 2,250 in 2015.

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Having been with the center since 2010, Ault has experienced most recent changes firsthand. Her starting task as director was moving the center out of a smaller room half its current size. "And we did it in one year," she said. "That was quite the year. ... I didn't spend much time at home."

Since then, Ault notes several significant developments in 911 technology, for both the center here and PSAPs across the state. Grand Forks center supervisor Shannon LaHaise, who's been at the center since 1997, said her "profession has definitely changed" over the last 20 years. For starters, most of the technology is new—LaHaise said Grand Forks dispatchers didn't have headsets to minimize noise and distraction until a couple years ago, and it wasn't until 2016 that people could text 911.

In 2013, LaHaise said the Grand Forks center began the transition to ESINET, a statewide network for 911 traffic. Before that, Ault said the center spent about $40,000 a year for eight "trunks," or phone lines dedicated to one call at a time. With ESINET, Ault said the Grand Forks PSAP pays much less for an unlimited number of lines. Right now, Ault said North Dakota PSAPs are working on switching to a similarly large, statewide network for radio, where dispatchers communicate with emergency responders.

And it's ESINET that makes texting to 911 possible, said Jason Horning, who serves on the North Dakota Association of Counties as program manager for Next Generation 911, a national initiative to switch over to ESINET.

Horning said North Dakota is ahead of the curve, along with a handful of other states. In North Dakota, Horning said there are only six PSAPs that haven't made a complete switch from old analog networks to ESINET.

Horning also serves on the National Association of State 911 Administrators, as a representative for North Dakota.

"Having been involved in NASNA for a period of time now, it's pretty interesting to see how disorganized other states are," he said, comparing his experiences in NASNA with those he's had in the association of counties.

"It comes down to having a strong community of 911 administrators and coordinators, working together. ... Building a foundation between us lets us do the things we've always done, but it also provides a foundation for us to do a lot more for public safety down the road."


Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent

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Published: Wednesday, June 27, 2018

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