Love helped build county's 911 system


Janice Love

When Janice Love joined the county’s first 911 dispatch team in December 1990, she wasn’t sure if she could do the job.

Six years later, when she became director of the department in 1996, she had new doubts with her new position.

“When I started the job as director, I wasn’t completely sure if I could do it,” Love said. “But I will tell you, I have done it one day at a time. Since day one, it’s been a day at a time and praying for lots of wisdom.”

Now, 28 years after starting with the dispatch team, Love, 65, is retiring with all the confidence in the 911 system that has been built and the team of dispatchers who will continue serving the public in emergency situations. She will leave the position in March.

Love discovered her interest in law enforcement while attending Vincennes University Jasper Campus. As an elective class, she took Elements of Criminal Investigation, which was taught by the commander of the Indiana State Police Jasper Post.

“He took us on a field trip one evening to the post here,” Love said. “And I just thought, ‘How fun it would be to work in the law enforcement field.’ But I never really thought I could do it, with the life-and-death decisions.”

Some time passed and Love became a mother. “I was raising my kids, and decided that I was going to go back to work,” she said. “I worked the night shift at Memorial Hospital, in registration. And I loved it.”

At that time, a county committee was making plans to implement 911 in the county and was hiring staff to put the system in place. At the time, emergency calls were going to the state police post; people would dial zero and were connected to the post.

One of Love’s colleagues, Ambulance Coordinator Suzan Henke, encouraged her to apply for a dispatcher job. As a part of her night shifts job at Memorial, Love answered emergency calls from people who needed an ambulance.

“We had that red phone that would ring,” She said. “She [Henke] knew I could answer that red phone and send the right response.”

Love applied and was hired in December 1990 as a dispatcher. The staff, which included a director, were entering information into a computer system and doing test calls to residences. “We called every phone number in the county,” Love said.“All landline. There was no such thing as wireless 911 at the time. We told them to hang up, wait a few seconds and to pick up and dial 811. It was a test number that would ring to us. And we could confirm their information and make sure everything worked right.”

When the 911 system started in Dubois County April 1991, it was an enhanced system that used technology and computer screens that showed dispatchers the address and a phone number of a caller.

Love worked the night shift as a dispatcher until she became director in May 1996. There are now 14 people on staff, including Love, and they can all handle dispatch calls.

Over her tenure, Love has seen so many changes in 911. “For a while, it seemed to be one change after another,” she said.

The most complicated one was the implementation of cellular 911 in the mid-2000s.

“It caused so many problems for us in the beginning,” Love said, “If you couldn’t get a good location, or if a call was transferred from another agency and they didn’t get good information and didn’t get a callback number. With all these different emergency agencies in the county, you were trying to figure out who do you send. The location was the problem.”

The county had to contact several cellular providers to request that they improve cell service so that 911 could get a better read on cellphones’ locations.

Along with that, people were using their cellphones more than landline phones, which meant that surcharge fees that were coming from landline phones started drying up; and the surcharge fees on cellphones were considerably less. So 911 agencies were in need of money.

But then the state 911 board was formed. “They receive all the (surcharge fees) from cellular providers and disperse it out to the counties,” Love said. “And now, the state is paying for needed training that counties couldn’t afford. We are better off than we were before.”

Along with providing needed funding for 911 systems, the state also pays for GIS mapping for 911 agencies, and for text-to-911 software, through which people can text dispatch. “It’s actually in another computer system,” Love said of the texting service. “When someone texts 911, it goes to that computer.”

Currently, 85 percent of the county’s 911 calls coming from cellphones, Love said.

“It’s constant change,” she said. “And as technology changes, we have to keep up. We don’t have a choice.”

Another big change was the 911 department moving from the Dubois County Security Center into a bigger space on St. Charles Street, sharing a building with the health department.

“With the number of agencies we have, we needed to have three dispatchers. And there just wasn’t enough room in there [at the security center],” Love said. “It works out a whole lot better here.”

Making the transition was complicated. It included purchasing equipment for the new center, moving some equipment from the old site to the new one, making sure it all worked properly, and still maintaining the emergency dispatch service at the same time. 911 did not shut down because of the transition.

“You have to think about every piece of equipment needed, shutting the service down over there, moving (the service) over here and not losing anything in the mix, not one 911 call, not one radio transmission,” Love said.

The day that the old center shut down and the new center went live, Love and another dispatcher were at the old site.

“When they turned it off over there and we were leaving the old center, we were like, ‘This is wrong,’” Love recalled. “It felt so wrong to walk out of that room and not having anybody in there answering calls. It was the weirdest feeling.” But the other center was operating well and no calls were lost, she said.

Love has come to cherish the staff and will miss them when she retires in March. “I love these people. They are like family,” she said.

It’s important that the staff work well together, especially when working in an environment that deals with people who are in emergency situations.

“It can be very stressful in the moment. But if you’re doing all you can do, it can be a short-term stress, whereby you don’t have to go home and live it,” Love said. “Everything out here is structured. You know your resources, you know what you need to send, because that’s how you’ve been trained. You can help stabilize the patient until the ambulance or first responders get there. It’s all because of the training.”

Some calls are harder than others. “The calls involving a child are the hardest,” Love admitted. “It takes on a whole different tone when a kid is involved. It’s tough.”

It takes a certain type of personality to handle the different emergency calls, send emergency crews and then move on to another call.

“You may never know the outcome of that call,” she said. “You have to be able to have empathy, but not get sucked into that call to where you are living it. And it’s hard not to sometimes. This job is not for everybody.”

When she retires in March, Love will be able to leave that stress behind. She plans to get more into her hobbies of gardening, canning and reading; continue to stay involved in her church; and spend more time with her adult children — Erin Owen of Newburgh, Liz Weisensteiner of Jasper, Jessica Love of Florida and Kristin Moorhead of Alabama — and her four grandchildren.

She will rest assured that the 911 center is in good hands. Her assistant director, Jeana Mathies, will become director when Love leaves.

“I have the utmost confidence in Jeana,” Love said. “She knows all of this, and is going to do well.”

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