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April 28, 2004
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High-tech dispatch center serves region

By Stephen Stanis
Daily Southtown

Thanks to the cooperation of five southeastern Will County communities, dispatchers at the Eastcom center are confident they have the technology at their fingertips to effectively respond to any emergency. In the late 1990s, Beecher, Crete, Monee, University Park and Peotone decided to combine dispatch centers to cut costs and improve technology. The new center was named Eastcom.

Situated in space rented in the Crete police station, Eastcom is manned by three employees ready to dispatch police, fire or other emergency units to where they are needed in the region.

With a few clicks of a mouse and few punches on a keyboard, the dispatchers can locate the nearest unit, pull up maps, check law enforcement databases and get units en route to the emergency in short order.

"It works out quiet well," Crete Police Chief Paul VanDeraa said. "When we had our own dispatcher, things got really busy. We had one dispatcher who had to handle everything.

"In joining with other agencies, we now have more people in there. A lot more people (are) picking up the phones and helping people."

Neighboring Beecher Police Chief Jeffrey Weissgerber said Eastcom not only provides a cost savings to the communities involved, but also eases the burden on the 911 system.

"Overall, we have had some savings. Right when we were getting ready to do the consolidation, the state rules were changing to say you had to have at least two dispatchers per shift," Weissgerber said.

Besides personnel, the member departments also have seen an upgrade in the types of technology used for dispatching.

"We definitely have more technology now than many of the departments could have afforded on their own," VanDeraa said.

Eastcom dispatchers use a computer-aided dispatch or CAD unit, Eastcom shift supervisor Maureen Talbot said.

"We can look up jurisdictions with this right at our fingertips," Talbot said. "We can track if a call is pending, what units are available, where they are, how long the call has been and all of this at our fingertips."

In addition, all of the radios are controlled by computer, so dispatchers can merely point and click to contact officers or patch frequencies together.

"The technology puts a lot more right in front of us. We can use the keyboard and mouse to handle things in a user-friendly environment," she said.

Upgrades to the Dictaphones also have taken place. No longer are the systems large reel-to-reel tapes. All radio and phone conversations are recorded into a computer.

The addition of technology does mean there is a little less personal contact and interaction between dispatchers and officers, but not too little, VanDeraa said.

"When dispatchers don''t work for an agency, there is a little less personal touch to things. They count more on technology because they don''t have the knowledge of the town. In the old days, they knew this town like the back of their hands."

For the most part, however, relationships between dispatchers and police officers and firefighters have not changed, both VanDeraa and Weissgerber said.

The number of communities the dispatch center serves might grow as the Will County 911 committee recently proposed further consolidation to regional centers by 2007.

Several Eastcom communities have yet to decide if they feel this would be a benefit or a hindrance.

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