“I made out very well,” says Will, the director of Newtown's Emergency Communications Center, speaking from her office within police department headquarters on Main Street. “I didn’t loose any staff [positions] in the budget."
The Emergency Communications budget in the fiscal year 2012-13 budget rises by a little more than $24,000, from $1,032,751 to $1,056,921. That represents an increase of 2.3 percent. Departmental expenses increased more than $27,000, largely because of the benefits packages two new staff members chose. Still, a chunk of the increase was absorbed because the two staff members, each former dispatchers, began at the lowest pay level.
"These are my costs,” Will says, reiterating what she said during budget presentations to town officials. "There is no fluff."
The center’s expenditures do not constitute a behemoth in the. Nevertheless, as Newtown residents learned last year during and then ’ — and as anyone who has had to call 911 can attest — the response of its staff is vital.
Will tries to schedule two staff members on each of the center's shifts, which run around the clock seven days a week. And although the department receives roughly 500 calls a month, that number increased during Tropical Storm Irene. During the snowstorm in October, the number of 911 calls the staff took was, as Will puts it, “off the charts."
“In October, we had 1,008 calls. That was the highest we’ve ever had,” Will says.
'We're Here 24/7'
“I look for calm under pressure, a voice that commands attention,” she says of her staff. “You have to slow your speech. There’s a difference between hearing you and listening to you.”
“I’ve got good people,” Will says. “We’ve also got good equipment. We also buy the best equipment because it has to work when we need it.”
“We’re here 24/7, so we have to be up and we have to be running,” she says. “We have to get the first responders out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday or if it’s in the middle of a snowstorm, we’re here and that equipment has to run."
The generators on the five towers the town uses require propane, the cost of which contributed to a rise of roughly $3,000 in utility costs for the center in the 2012-13 budget. Utilities also power the wide-area network the center has in municipal buildings for such functions as video-monitoring.
State Subsidy Helps
Will says she worries about the radio system, because its components do have a shelf-life. She plans ahead, she says, relying in part for replacements through a 9/11 Public Safety Answering Point or PSAP subsidy that she receives from the state.
To replace the global positioning system (GPS) devices at the tower sites, she has worked with the town over a three-year period. The town has paid half the cost of the replacements, she notes, and monies from the subsidy covered the rest.
“We always want the best,” Will says. “We want to be one or two steps ahead of any shelf life of equipment.”
Will says if the budget passes as is she should complete her replacement of the town’s GPS cycle by the end of this year.
The subsidy she has relied upon for equipment and one that she terms her “safety blanket” has also served her well during emergencies when she has had to exceed her overtime budget. Then, she says, she transfers monies from it.
Still, she concedes she does not have enough towers. She referred to a new tower in Newtown that AT&T has put up. She said she’d like to put some equipment there, and that she intends to look for grant monies to do so.
This August, she plans to go to Minnesota because Newtown’s Emergency Communications Center has received an award from the Association of Public Communications Officers for training the staff received last year. That training, which the department received online at no cost, has given it the status of a National Center for Missing & Exploited 911 Call Center Partner. Newtown’s center is only the second in the state to have it.
“I‘m not doing less with more. I’m not even doing more with less,” Will says. “We do what has to be done to get the job done.”
She adds, what makes her happy is when someone in the community says 'Thank You' to members of her staff.