As radios buzz in the background, North Huntingdon police dispatcher Jaclyn Robinson coolly takes information and connects officers on the street to residents in distress.
Controlling three separate, simultaneous conversations can be a juggling act, but Robinson commands the radio with ease and quickly assigns officers to the proper location with vital information before they even step out of the vehicle.
“We handle everything from barking dogs to armed robberies,” she said. “There’s no way of knowing what you get next.”
This month, North Huntingdon police dispatchers received a new, computer-based radio system. The modern system costs about $65,000, which was part of the 2013 township budget. It replaces a system so old replacement parts had become obsolete.
“It’s an antiquated push-button system,” Robinson said. “Things are starting to break inside, and we can’t get the parts.”
Repairs on North Huntingdon’s old system became costly. A fan was set up to blow cool air on the console so it didn’t overheat.
North Huntingdon officials purchased the system in the 1990s but chose an older model to meet budget constraints. Dispatchers got used to pushing buttons to connect calls and route police.
Now, instead of looking at a board loaded with buttons and knobs, dispatchers focus on one screen to easily receive calls and click over to be patched into police radios.
The transmissions are much clearer, Robinson said. She also said dispatchers have increased their efficiency to work as a backup center for county 911 and have the ability to effortlessly switch between channels.
“I think it’s just a peace of mind knowing the equipment is current and fully supported,” Robinson said. “We were running the risk of communications failures. The new system has given us that peace of mind.”
In October, North Huntingdon police dispatchers handled 4,411 calls. In August, the dispatchers took about 3,330 calls.
Although radio equipment can be expensive, it’s a necessity, said Daniel Stevens, spokesman for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety.
“The lifeline to an officer in the field is his radio,” he said. “An officer’s backup is a radio call away, and if the radio doesn’t work, that officer might not get backup. From 911 to local police dispatch to nationwide, officers’ safety is No. 1.”
Robinson said she credits the township administration for helping obtain the new radio system.
North Huntingdon and Greensburg police are the only departments in the county to maintain their own dispatch center. The Murrysville Police Department made a transition for its dispatch center to the central 911 center in early December.