- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) - Stephanie Summey has worked as a dispatcher in the Greenwood Emergency Communications Center for 18 years minus the three months she stepped away to pursue a career change.

She quickly realized she was right where she wanted to be.

“It’s not the same thing every day,” Summey said. “I feel like you are watching over people and helping them.”

Summey is one of 19 dispatchers who handle at least 300 calls every 12-hour shift. There are four shifts with five people per shift and one position temporarily vacant. They work in a purple and beige-painted windowless room on the first floor of the Greenwood County Courthouse.

The dispatch center handles police calls for Greenwood city and county, Ninety Six and Ware Shoals. Workers handle emergency medical service, emergency medical dispatch and fire calls in the cities and county and communicate with the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

Dispatchers can also access the National Crime Information Center database to check people with warrants encountered at arrests and traffic stops.

“They are the first voice someone hears when calling 911,” Greenwood County Sheriff Tony Davis said. “It may be a simple call such as someone from out of town asking for directions and their next call may be a hysterical victim yelling for assistance or a child who has a deathly ill relative and wanting to know what to do. Our dispatchers have to multitask and be versatile while being professional.”

Emergency communications have to be maintained 24 hours a day and, depending on bad weather or major events, dispatchers have been known to sleep on cots throughout the center. The sheriff’s office has a backup dispatch communications space in Ware Shoals and calls can overflow to neighboring counties and be forwarded back to Greenwood County. Callers who do not know English as a first language have a language line dispatchers forward them to for assistance.

“The day shift is the busiest,” operations manager Jill Boland said. “You get the higher call volume with officers serving warrants.”

Dispatchers need to know law enforcement communication codes and are encouraged to study maps to stay familiar with roads and landmarks. They also need to be aware through the computer-aided dispatch system which police, fire and emergency units are available.

“It may sound hard but some things that might bother other people we have grown accustomed to,” said Richard Gilchrist, a dispatcher and volunteer firefighter for the Northwest Volunteer Fire Department in Greenwood County.

Summey said the most mentally challenging dispatch call she has handled was on Oct. 29, 2013, when six bodies were found in a murder-suicide at a home on Callison Highway. She said for a few days after the incident she could not easily shake the feeling of having done what she knew she could do amid the situation.

With every serious emergency call coming into the dispatch center, there are calls from people who cannot be helped. The dispatch center cannot call electric companies to have customers’ power turned back on and dispatchers cannot file incident reports for people.

“A lot of times they will call and talk so much you won’t get the information you need,” Gilchrist said. “We need who you are, where you are and the phone number.”

Plans in the next several months call for upgrading the dispatch center’s furniture and doing more E-911 education for residents.

“In my opinion, E-911 dispatchers are under appreciated for the job in which they do,” Davis said. “These ladies and gentlemen are a very integral part of law enforcement and public safety. They are a very dedicated, committed, caring and compassionate group of employees.”


Information from: The Index-Journal, https://www.indexjournal.com

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