Interim E-911 director Rob McMullen made a pitch Tuesday morning to members of the county council for better technology and greater access to training for employees.
Central Dispatch recently went through a shake-up as the county commissioners in July decided to part ways with long-time E-911 director Debbie Schmidtknecht.
They hired McMullen, who previously served as the E-911 director in Vigo County, as interim director in an effort to streamline and hone in on any problem areas that required attention.
A lack of training, he told the council during annual budget hearings, is one such void. He argued that Central Dispatch employees have been getting “the bare minimum,” so he requested from the council an increase in the training budget of $7,000 — from $3,000 up to $10,000 for 2020.
That additional funding, he said, will open up more training opportunities for dispatchers, from online webinars to on-site training and even larger, more comprehensive training experiences across the state.
McMullen, too, said he left room in the $1.5 million Central Dispatch budget — which is remaining basically the same as this year — for additional technology. One such addition, he said, will be a program that allows Central Dispatch to more closely pinpoint a caller's location.
Right now, he said, available technology only allows for a caller's coordinates. This new program, he said, will allow for dispatchers to pinpoint the actual elevation for first-responders.
So, for instance, is someone is in trouble in a multi-story building, dispatchers would be able to tell first-responders on which floor to look.
McMullen, too, said he is doing an “analysis” of the current staff, the results of which he expects by week's end.
One of the commissioners' primary concerns was that the director was carrying too much weight; their hope was that McMullen could shed light on how responsibilities could be more evenly delegated among the E-911 staff.
“So I'm still waiting to see where we stand,” he said. “Do we need additional manpower? Or are we good where we're at?
“Right now, it looks like we're understaffed by one or two (employees) but we'll play it by ear, see how it goes.”
McMullen said he expects to stay on as interim for as long as six months — he was hired by the commissioners in August — but doesn't desire to stay on permanently.
“But there will be a new director at some point,” he said. “And I'll be a part of hiring that person, getting them up to speed.”
But, overall, he told the council to expect growth and positive change at E-911 in the coming months.
“There's no turning back,” he said. “It's a lot of change these folks are going through right now, but we're going up. My job is just to help get things straightened up, to make these guys better.
“And there is no reason why (Knox Count E-911) can't be one of the best in the state. These are some very dedicated people. They are the unrecognized heroes.”
McMullen said the county provides to Central Dispatch upwards of $543,000 per year; the rest of his budget, or $510,000, is provided by the state 911 Board.
The county's annual budget hearings resume at 4 p.m. today at the Knox County Courthouse. Over the course of two days, they meet with more than 20 department heads — as well as the commissioners — to hash out the extensive 2020 spending plan.