Things have changed since Karen Haun first started working at the Crawford County 9-1-1 Center.
One thing has not changed: People still call for help.
In fact, during the past year, nearly 50,000 calls have been processed through the 9-1-1 office from people calling for assistance.
Haun started in 1994 as a trainee for the dispatcher position. Eight weeks later, she became a per diem (as needed) dispatcher. In 1995, she started working full time as a dispatcher, and a couple of years later she became a shift leader at the center.
When she first started, there were no computers programmed to assist the dispatcher in sending help quickly. Instead, the dispatchers used paper maps with grids to pinpoint locations and then called for help accordingly.
Depending on the nature of the call, help may come via fire truck, ambulance, police or other first responder.
The nature of the calls has not changed, but a computerized system has helped dispatchers to more quickly determine which emergency service should be dispatched.
Haun explains that when a call is received, the dispatcher who answered the phone will start asking questions while another dispatcher (one for fires, another for other emergencies) will prepare to send help.
Once the nature of the emergency is determined, the appropriate dispatcher takes over and the original dispatcher disconnects from the line to be ready for another emergency.
She explains that callers will be asked their name and address and the location of the emergency, including the color of the house (if applicable) and other identifiable markings of the location.
She said often the volunteers responding will know the location by someone's name, not their number or residence, so it helps to have the name also.
Haun also noted that calls from landline phones are easier because the location of the caller comes up automatically on the computer. Calls made from cellphones take more time to trace.
Once the nature of the emergency has been determined, dispatchers send appropriate emergency personnel. If a call for an ambulance is not answered within three minutes, a second call is made. If no response comes within the next three minutes, personnel from a different department is called.
Crawford County has 12 dispatchers — three on duty during the day shifts and two on duty for night shifts since the night shift is usually quieter than the day shift.
The center is covered 24/7. When major emergencies occur, off-duty dispatchers may be called in. Haun said often when the dispatchers hear of a major emergency — such as a tornado or major fire — dispatchers will show up to see if they are needed.
She recalled one incident years ago when there were mudslides approaching the hospital on Grove Street, and more help was needed immediately. At the time, Steve Amy was in charge of maintenance at the courthouse and stopped at the office to see what he could do.
Haun recalled she threw the book with the employees' names and numbers in it and told Amy to call people in to assist.
She is proud of the response and cooperation from the volunteer fire departments, ambulance, police and others and also very appreciative of the support she has received from her family during her career as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, saying family support is very important.
Haun said the center is a busy place with an average of 80 to 100 calls a day for help. Haun said as soon as it starts snowing, calls go up for vehicle crashes.
Even when the phone is not ringing, there is plenty to do.
The dispatchers must keep up with emails and other notifications of equipment that are out of service for repairs or other reasons; document every call with every bit of information and the response — plus similar work.
It's not just emergencies that dispatchers handle. They dispatch for routine work, check on warrants and more.
Dispatchers also are in touch with the Crawford County jail regarding any outstanding warrants which may have come in against inmates at the jail.
Haun said before becoming a dispatcher, one has to take training and it is important to be able to keep calm during emergencies.
"No one calls to tell you good news," she said. That is the nature of the job.
The work can be "mentally exhausting," she said, because the calls involve crisis situations.
However, she said, the dispatchers work well together.
Haun, who majored in communications in college, said her dad asked her what she would do in that job.
She tells him, "I'm working in communications."
The communications is responding to those in need by telling others what they need and getting help as quickly as possible.
While she appreciates the fact she has been able to help someone, she also is humbled and saddened when she learns that she was the last person someone talked to because they died after making the call.
But she also knows that she and the other dispatchers have done their jobs when they send emergency personnel to help someone who has dialed 9-1-1.