“City Government 101” is an ongoing series that debuted in April 2023 and highlights different aspects of municipal government as it pertains to Columbus, Nebraska, in hopes to provide information on how the City of Columbus operates.
Every City of Columbus department head was recently asked some questions in regard to their department, the current fiscal year budget and plans for their department in the upcoming fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2023-Sept. 30, 2024).
The Columbus-Platte County Joint Communications Center, which is staffed 24/7, serves as a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) for Platte and Polk counties. All Platte County and Polk County 9-1-1 phone calls are routed to the Columbus PSAP. The Communications Center also answers administrative phone lines for the Columbus Police Department, Platte County Sheriff’s Office, and Polk County Sheriff’s Office. The Communications Center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Columbus-Platte County JCC is overseen by a committee of two City officials, two County officials, and a member-at-large, and is funded by wired and wireless telephone surcharges and taxpayer dollars.
DEPARTMENT: COLUMBUS-PLATTE COUNTY JOINT COMMUNICATIONS CENTER
DEPARTMENT HEAD: Rachel Pensick
(Interview conducted in September 2023)
Q: How many people are in your department?
A: We currently have 11 full-time employees and two part-time employees. We have six full-time positions to be filled. There are three other employees from within the City who are past dispatchers and help out from time-to-time.
Q: How long have you been head of your department?
A: I have been the department head for 3.5 years.
Q: How do you think things went for your department in fiscal year 2022-2023?
A: I think things went well. The first couple of years of the consolidation was a big transition and it was not always smooth sailing. It was difficult to determine the operating budget needs at time. But this last year being our fourth year, I feel we no longer have those uncertainties. We did stay within our set budget in 2022-2023.
Q: What were at least two of your department’s biggest accomplishments in the last fiscal year (and why?)?
A: 1) We have begun building our Emergency Medical Dispatch program. This is a big task, and very few PSAP’s are as far along in the process as we are. It takes a lot of behind the scenes work to get everything done.
2) We spent the past two years getting everyone certified as Basic Telecommunicators and Emergency Medical Dispatchers through the Association of Public Safety Communications Officers (APCO). There is not a lot of training available to 911 dispatchers in our state, and employees worked hard get certified, and continue to work hard maintaining the certifications.
Q: What are some of the problems your department faced in the last fiscal year and how did you overcome them?
A: Our biggest issue has always been staffing. For a large part of this year, we were working at 50% of our staffing needs. We have overcome this is because of dedicated employees who are willing to put in extra hours. We do go down to minimum staffing when we are able to, but that alone would not get us through the staffing issue.
Q: What are at least 3 major things you’re wanting your department to accomplish in fiscal year 2023-2024 and how is the new budget going to improve that?
A: I want our EMD program to be completed and implemented. This does require the JCC to continue paying the salary for a Medical Director, as well as potential overtime hours for EMD committee meetings and completing any tasks, such as guide-card customization or Computer Aided Dispatch data entry work. I would like us to look into us becoming a partner on the State Radio System. This would hopefully help improve some of the radio coverage and interoperability issues that are present with partner agencies. Becoming a partner would require the Joint Communication Center to purchase radio equipment to be put on the new Shady Lake Road tower, as well as pay for radio programming.
Lastly, I would like to get to full staffing. We already set our budget for full-staffing needs. Being full-staffed would greatly reduce the amount of overtime hours paid.
Q: What can the public expect from your department in the next fiscal year?
A: As 911 dispatchers, we rarely get face-to-face interaction with the public. This past year, we began taking part in community activities. I would like to see this continue. It is also a goal to be more active on social media, specifically on topics that relate advancements in 911 technology that may be beneficial to the public.
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