It’s official – Texas County’s new 911 system is operational.
The Texas County Emergency Services center in downtown Houston went “live” at 10 a.m. Wednesday and dispatcher Terra Culley took the first call at 10:25 a.m.
The process leading up to the center’s existence began in 2013 when Wright County announced the ending of the two-county “Wri-Tex 911” operation that began in the mid-1990s. Texas County’s exclusive system took off in April 2014 with voter approval of a 3/8-cent retail sales tax to fund it.
After the vote, county commissioners appointed a seven-person board of directors to administer funds and oversee the new system’s operation. Former Wri-Tex 911 director Carol Ann Freeman, of Cabool, was named to the board and subsequently elected board chairman by her peers.
The new center is in the county administrative building in space once occupied by the sheriff’s department and jail.
“You have a little sense of pride when you see the end result of something like this,” Freeman said. “When we started, this was a shell of a building. Then when we got our floor plan together, the county was real good to remodel it mostly the way we wanted.”
Wright County voters approved a similar tax last year and officials there are putting together a single-county 911 system. For a fee, Texas County 911 is doing Wright County’s dispatching at least until the end of this year, and also dispatches for the Houston Police Department, county volunteer fire departments and several other entities, and will soon dispatch for the Licking Police Department.
To help with the transition from the 911 system’s old location on the Texas County Memorial Hospital campus to its new (much more spacious) location, representatives were on hand Wednesday of multiple public safety-oriented companies that worked with Texas County Emergency Services along the way, including Command 1 (of California, Mo.), Emergency CallWorks (based in Birmingham, Ala.), and Harden Consulting (of Kansas City).
Harden Consulting manager Leon Harden said the Texas County 911 staff had worked hard over the past few months.
“I have to applaud these people,” he said. “They’ve had a lot come at them in a short time.”
Freeman also helped get Wri-Tex 911 going. She said she’s satisfied with the state of the county’s new 911 system, and that citizens are getting their money’s worth.
“I think this is going to be a great asset for the county for a long time,” Freeman said. “We have new equipment and more dispatchers now, and of course we’re dispatching for the cities now and getting great cooperation from them.
“It sure beats the other center; it was so cramped over there and the equipment was so outdated. It was the top-of-the-line when we put it in, but that was over 20 years ago and it hadn’t been upgraded, except what had to be.”
The board decided to retain long-time Wri-Tex 911 director Donna Robertson as director of the new system.
“We have needed more room and new equipment for so long,” Robertson said. “This past week has been hectic, but to actually have room to grow now is fantastic.”
Robertson’s staff includes 11 dispatchers – up from 10 at the former location – and will total as many as 13 or 14 in the near future. She said the recent addition of dispatching for Houston police noticeably increased the workload, and it will ratchet up again when the Licking PD comes on board in a week or two.
“We have a great bunch of dispatchers,” she said. “After taking on the Houston PD, there were some of the shifts where it was getting very busy. When Licking comes on, we’ll pretty well need three people on per shift.”
The members of the inaugural Texas County Emergency Services board were appointed to either two or four year terms. The positions of the three serving two-year terms will be up for public election next April.
“We’ve had a really good board to work with,” Freeman said. “Everyone has agreed on decisions we’ve made.”
Jonathan Bennett, Terra Culley, Johnelle Ellis, Darlene Engle, Fonda Holder, Barb Manier, Hope Martin, Melissa Middleton, Dorothy Riffle, J.R. Stalder.