Centre County celebrates 25 years of 911

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS At Tuesday’s Centre County commissioners’ meeting, they adopted Proclamation 17 of 2019, which recognized the 25th anniversary of Centre County 911 Emergency Communications. From left, commissioner Michael Pipe, commissioner Mark Higgins, technical services supervisor Dave Rowles, 911 dispatcher Chris Demyan, director Dale Neff, assistant director Norm Spackman and commissioner Steve Dershem.

BELLEFONTE — Centre County is celebrating 25 years of 911 Emergency Communications.

It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when 911 didn’t exist. If you were in the midst of any type of emergency, you’d have to call your local police, fire department or EMS. Simply put, 911 changed all that.

On Tuesday, the Centre County commissioners adopted Proclamation 17 of 2019, which recognized the 25th anniversary of Centre County 911 Emergency Communications. June 1 marked 25 years of 911 service in the county.

Established in 1994, the Centre County Emergency Communications Center serves residents and businesses from a renovated facility in the Willowbank Building. It uses the latest state-of-the-art radio, telephone, map and computer-aided dispatch systems.

At Tuesday’s meeting, director Dale Neff spoke and assistant director Norm Spackman gave a PowerPoint presentation at the meeting.

“Our mission statement in 1994 said in part to provide the citizens of Centre County access to police, fire and EMS systems,” Neff said. “Over the past 25 years, 911 has really done a very good job of that. But it has truly been a team effort.”

The department has 32 employees. The offices houses the director, assistant director, department secretary, addressing specialist, addressing/ALI database manager, addressing field technician, supervisor of technical services, quality assurance supervisor and 25 telecommunicators.

Neff said that the telecommunicators — sometimes called dispatchers — play a key role in the department.

“They’ve been hired to serve the community. All the trainings they have to take, all the certifications they have to take. Every dispatcher is trained in CIT. They give lifesaving instructions on the phone … there have been CPR saves over the phone, we’ve had babies choking … they support the first repsponders behind the scenes and they’re not always acknowledged. It’s special when they get mentioned. It doesn’t happen a lot. But they’re not in it for the recognition,” Neff said.

Spackman said that there’s very little down time in the communications center.

“On a busy day, we’re going to handle 350 to 400 calls. That’s just a standard day when it’s a little busier than normal. When weather hits and critical incidents happen, it goes from steady to extremely busy,” Spackman said.

The PowerPoint presentation showed archived photos from the early days of the communications center to its present-day form. Technology has changed by leaps and bounds and Centre County has adjusted extremely well.

The commissioners lauded Neff and his team for their efforts.

“I think a lot of people just think that when you dial 911, there’s always going to be someone available to take that call and provide those emergency services. The whole team down there are the unsung heroes. You folks make it happen and we appreciate that. I think a lof of people don’t think about it until they really need you,” said commissioner Steve Dershem.

While commissioner Michael Pipe said that he enjoyed looking back at the past 25 years, he’s excited to see where the next quarter-century takes the county.

“It’s going to be very remarkable to see where we land when we talk about live action, live feeds coming from incidents … the future is going to be very interesting for 911,” Pipe said. “I think the thing that we know in Centre County is all the work that has gone into the last quarter-century prepares us for the future and puts us in a very good position.”