PALO PINTO – Digital touch screen emergency dispatching. It's what Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Office 911 telecommunicators do now.
That might not sound like a big deal in this day and time – unless you were one of the dispatchers working on the department's previous, and old, system. Very old. Like two-decades old.
"The stuff we had in before, the hamsters were getting old trying to spin the wheels," joked Sheriff Brett McGuire.
"It's the little things," quipped PPCSO telecommunicator Athena Hagins said of her joy over the new, modern equipment.
But it's actually a pretty big thing. In emergencies seconds count, beginning with the dispatching of first responders. The sheriff's department was able to acquire relatively inexpensively four ModUCom brand UltraCom IP integrated consoles with accompanying hardware and software that simplifies, quickens and improves that initial call for help when multiple agencies or departments are involved.
McGuire said technology tends to go obsolete in five or six years. He said the previous dispatching equipment was 20-25 years old. It worked, but it required dispatchers, for instance, to have to scroll through and page departments individually.
"Basically what we get with these, it is all computer programmable," McGuire said. "The radio guys can go in and tell it what we want it to do and how we want it to do it."
"We can select as many or as few (departments) as we want and just press one button and it sends a page to every single one of them," said PPCSO 911 telecommunicator Christa Kinder. "Before we were unable to broadcast across both channels (sheriff's and fire frequencies) and ask any pertinent information across both simultaneously."
Additionally, with the touch of screen they can control doors and access in and outside the sheriff's office along with other features, such as instantly playing back radio traffic.
Kinder was familiar with the system from her work at a previous agency. Installed two weeks ago, Hagins said they were using the new consoles almost immediately.
"We were using it within a couple of hours of getting it installed," she said. "It was very easy to learn. We have not had any problems so far. It is way more reliable."
Another feature is the sheriff's office will be able to add Texas Department of Public Safety's working frequency to their consoles to let dispatchers communicate with troopers.
The four consoles and related equipment were donated to the sheriff's department by the City of Midlothian when it upgraded its equipment. The sheriff's department paid to have the equipment removed from Midlothian and brought to Palo Pinto, installed and programmed all at a cost of around $20,000, McGuire said.
"These are 5-year-old consoles," he said. "So they said we need to go up to the next best and latest and greatest. They had these and it just worked out well that the radio guy we have here happened to be doing some of the radio work in Midlothian and he said I know a sheriff's department who could really use that if you are willing to donate that. So I sent a letter to the city manager in Midlothian ... and their city council approved it."
The sheriff said not only does the new equipment bring his 911 communications forward a couple of decades, it buys some time to start preparing for the next upgrade.
"Hopefully we can get several years of use out of these and can start planning ahead and putting money in the piggy bank so we can replace these with the latest and greatest," McGuire said.