Whiteside County 911 dispatchers prepping for move to Morrison

Whiteside County Dispatch Director Stacie McKinzie, left, and Assistant Dispatch Director Jess Liston look at one of the unfinished desks in the new dispatch center in Morrison on June 27, 2024. In late September, all Whiteside County dispatchers will move to the new center.

MORRISON – The countdown to Whiteside County having all of its 911 dispatchers in one room is on.

In late September, the Twin Cities Communications Center in Sterling will close and the dozen dispatchers who work there will join eight coworkers in the Whiteside County Law Enforcement Center in Morrison.

“We currently have two centers that operate differently,” Whiteside County Dispatch Director Stacie McKinzie said. “This way, we’ll all be in one center, following the same policies and procedures and it’ll be more uniform for Whiteside County.”

Whiteside County dispatchers direct emergency responders from 20 agencies altogether – eight police departments and 11 fire and EMS agencies, Assistant Dispatch Director Jess Liston said.

Under the current setup, each dispatch center serves only half the county, McKinzie said. If a 911 call comes in and emergency services are needed in an area that center doesn’t cover, the caller has to be transferred to the other center, she said.

That won’t be the case post-consolidation, McKinzie said.

“It’s way more efficient to all be in one room and only have one dispatcher handling the call,” she said. “[There’s] less confusion and less room for error.”

Whiteside County 911 dispatcher Danielle Robbins poses at her station in the Morrison dispatch center from which she responds to emergency calls on June 27, 2024. In September, Whiteside County dispatch will consolidate its Sterling and Morrison centers to a new dispatch center in Morrison.

At any given time, there are three dispatchers on duty in Sterling and two in Morrison, McKinzie said. There will continue to be five dispatchers working at a time once the merger occurs and if they find more or fewer people are needed, they’ll adjust, she said.

Even though more dispatchers work in Sterling, the Morrison location is closer to the center of Whiteside County, so they’re moving everyone there, McKinzie said.

“We already have this room [for the dispatch center]. We already have this space and all dispatchers – even the Sterling ones – we are the sheriff’s office employees,” she said. “It’s just a more centralized location for everybody, which ultimately affects your communication because of your radios and everything.”

They do not expect the consolidation to lead to a reduction in staff because “our call volume keeps going up and up and up,” McKinzie said.

With 20 dispatchers, they’re technically understaffed by four people, McKinzie said. However, they are not sure how the consolidation will impact their staffing needs, she said.

Dispatchers have been cross-training at the two centers so they’ll all be familiar with the geography of the entire county, as well as the emergency responders they’ll be sending out, McKinzie said.

“We pretty much take an on-duty dispatcher from Sterling and an on-duty dispatcher from Morrison and they’re swapping places for the shift,” Liston said. “They are training at that opposite center. … They have someone that’s guiding them and teaching them. We’re not just throwing them to the wolves.”

McKinzie said cross-training was the best way she and Liston could come up with to get the dispatchers prepared.

The consolidation of the two centers isn’t the only change dispatchers are about to face, McKinzie said. The computer-aided dispatch system – or CAD – they use is set to change in August, she said.

In September, Whiteside County dispatch will consolidate its Sterling and Morrison centers to a new dispatch center in Morrison. Shown here are the six unfinished dispatcher stations on June 27, 2024.

CAD is the software used to dispatch emergency responders and keep track of where all the parties are at, Liston said.

“That’s what you’re on all day, every day, 12 hours, so [they’ll be] learning a new one of those,” Liston said.

September’s consolidation won’t be the first one dispatchers have gone through in recent years.

In 2017, a state law forced the county to downsize from four public safety answering points – or PSAPs – to two, McKinzie said. The four centers were the one in the Law Enforcement Center, one in the Rock Falls Police Department, one in the Sterling Police Department and a PSAP at CGH that dispatched only firefighters and EMS.

“The ultimate goal for the last 25 years has been to have one center for the whole county,” McKinzie said. “That’s what we’re getting to and we’re extremely excited about that.”

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Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner reports on Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties for Shaw Media out of the Dixon office. Previously, she worked for the Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Michigan, and the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.