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911 details discussed at meeting

Monday, April 16, 2012

Details about Monett's dispatching system and 911 service were presented at this week's meeting of the Monett Kiwanis Club.

Jack Schulz, chairman of the city's 911 Advisory Board, recounted how the Monett Chamber of Commerce explored community interest in having 911 in 1991. Voters approved a 10 percent surcharge on land-line phones to finance the undertaking in November 1991.

The city's system, serving all the phone customers in the "235" exchange, went on line in June 1993. Schulz said city representatives met with agents for AT&T and Motorola to explore costs and shop for equipment.

Probably the most complex part of the process involved eliminating rural route addresses. Schulz said the board invented a road numbering system, starting with "1" for north-south roads and "2" for east-west roads. All the rural roads in the service area were placed on a grid that could be extended. The numbering system received final approval from United States Post Office officials in Kansas City.

Lawrence County voters approved expanding 911 service across their county in 1995, using the same funding and addressing grid developed by Monett. The city system overlapped into Barry County and was thus left to operate separately.

Barry County voters approved a county-wide system in 2007. Because the Barry County system based its funding on a sales tax instead of a phone line surcharge, Monett's original funding formula was not allowed to continue under current state law. The rural portion of the "235" exchange was turned over to the county to operate and the surcharge on land line phones was discontinued.

Schulz said funding the city's 911 system has been a challenge with the number of land lines decreasing. The city's service ran a shortfall of $85,000 in 2011. The balance was made up by city funds.

Bonnie Witt-Schulte, dispatching supervisor, described how the city's system provides general dispatching services for the city's police, fire and utilities. In addition, 911 calls are fielded for Pierce City, Freistatt and the Barry-Lawrence Ambulance District.

The dispatch center has six full-time and two part-time dispatchers, plus one other person and Witt-Schulte herself. Dispatchers are not required to have certification; however, Witt-Schulte said her staff underwent 377 hours of training last year.

During 2011, the Monett dispatch center fielded 19,000 calls, 89 percent of which came from inside the city of Monett. Witt-Schulte said 40 percent of the calls came from cell phones. Even though cell phone owners provide no funding for the 911 system, all cell phones are programmed by the manufacturers to make 911 calls, she said.

A major disadvantage for responding to emergency calls from cell phones stems from not knowing the location of the call. Witt-Schulte said Monett dispatchers always ask the caller's location for clarification.

In the case of disasters, when signal traffic to cell phone towers becomes disrupted, Witt-Schulte said text messages continue to go through.

Handouts were provided on three easy steps to be prepared in an emergency. Witt-Schulte recommended keeping emergency supply kits at home that include such items as bandages, food, sleeping bags, batteries and flashlights.

Emergency sirens go on and off during storms. Asked about siren soundings, Witt-Schulte said dispatchers coordinate with radar and the National Weather Service. If advance warning is avaliable, alerts will be coordinated with the city's fire and police chiefs.

As a general policy, Witt-Schulte said sirens sound until the danger has passed. If sirens sound, the danger is real and the public needs to take cover.

Witt-Schulte said the city is fortunate to have a new facility for police and communications. The Monett Justice Center is temperature controlled with an emergency power backup and four stations for answering 911 calls.

At the present time, the city has only one shelter approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is located at Monett Elementary School. Witt-Schulte said the new Monett Area YMCA building will have one as well. The city has five other refuge centers, including one in the basement of the Justice Center, though they do not meet FEMA specifications.

Kiwanis President Eric Kean presided at the meeting. Jim Orr was the program chairman.

In club news, sign-ups are underway for the club's night to volunteer at the Monett Community Kitchen on April 19. Club members will serve breakfast at the prayer breakfast sponsored by the chamber at the City Park Casino.

The Monett Kiwanis Club meets at noon on Tuesdays for a meal and a program, usually at Happy House restaurant.

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