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Dickinson Police dispatch completes move to Public Safety Center

Gary Steffan said he couldn't help but get emotional early Thursday morning when he turned off the lights inside the Dickinson Law Enforcement Center's dispatch room.

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Dickinson Police Department communications specialist Kim Schwidnt works in front of her eight-minotor dispatcher display inside the department’s dispatch center, which moved its operations to the Public Safety Center on Thursday. The dispatchers had been working in the Law Enforcement Center despite the department’s move to the Public Safety Center in September. (Dustin Monke/The Dickinson Press)

Gary Steffan said he couldn’t help but get emotional early Thursday morning when he turned off the lights inside the Dickinson Law Enforcement Center’s dispatch room.

“You never see a dispatch with nobody in it,” said Steffan, a communications specialist in his 12th year with the Dickinson Police Department. “That doesn’t happen. But today, there wasn’t. … It was emotional. Somebody has to be in the chair.”

On Thursday, for the first time since the LEC opened more than 30 years ago, there were no dispatchers on site as they officially moved into their new and much more spacious room at the Public Safety Center.

Computer and phone network issues kept the dispatch crew from making the move along with the rest of the department last September.

“We did feel ostracized a little bit, because they left without us,” said a joking Dana Becker, the department’s public safety support specialist.

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Now, Becker said, they’re in the Public Safety Center for good, with at least two people ready to answer 911 and dispatch police, fire and ambulance services 24 hours a day.

Four dispatch stations in the new center sit on a false floor with thousands of telephone and network cords running beneath it. The massive technical undertaking of ensuring everything in the center worked perfectly before communications specialists could move their operations there delayed their move for nearly six months.

“Our network wasn’t ready,” Becker said. “We have redundancy in this building, so we have network in one side and in the other.”

If a line is cut on one end of the building, the other side will take over, she said.

Dispatchers also now have eight computer monitors in front of them and the ability to raise their desks to standing height. The monitors lead to quicker workflow and make dispatcher’s jobs easier. There are monitors for maps, the call system and officer locations. In the old dispatch center, many of those displays would be on single screens.

The old dispatch center at the LEC remain operational, despite being shuttered.

“We have full redundancy,” said Stark County Emergency Manager Bill Fahlsing, who has an office in the dispatch center and will spend about eight hours a week there. “If something were to happen to this center, our dispatchers could leave this center, go to the Law Enforcement Center and still ensure that 911 and emergency calls are being answered.”

Becker said despite relaxation not being part of the job description, being in the new dispatch center Thursday created a sense of relief.

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Dispatchers took quieter moments and leaned back in their chairs, taking in their new and much larger surroundings.

While he’s impressed with the new setting, Steffan said he enjoys what he does because it’s personally gratifying.

“Just knowing that you give the community your best possible service -- whether it’s the police, fire or ambulance, whatever their need is -- (you are) trying to comfort them until officers or somebody in a uniform arrives on scene,” he said, “and knowing you did everything possible to help them until more help arrives.”

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