Seminole County Public Safety Telecommunicators, pictured left to right are Tonya Wilkerson, Pam Helms, Shakela Wimbush, Jasmine Whitaker, Chris Knight, and Paula Whaley.
Every year during the second week of April, the telecommunications personnel in the public safety community are honored. This week-long event, initially set up in 1981 by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in California, is a time to celebrate and thank those who dedicate their lives to serving the public. It is a week that is set aside so everyone can be made aware of their hard work and dedication.
National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week (NPSTW) gives Americans an opportunity to thank 9-1-1 call takers, dispatchers, and all of the support personnel who work very hard every day to keep their communities safe. Public safety communications officers perform critical tasks behind the scenes to support law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.
Seminole County E-911 officially began its operations on January 1, 2000 with only four personnel serving the community 24/7. Sheriff Heath Elliott serves as the director of Seminole County E-911. He now has a staff of six full-time Communications Officers, and the office is conducting interviews for two open positions. Not only do they provide 9-1-1 services, they also handle many of the administration duties for the Sheriff’s Office as well.
Under O.C.G.A. 35-8-23, effective July 1, 1995, any agency that provides emergency communication services must have their employees complete Basic Communications Officer Certification course. The 40-hour course is held at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. Communications Personnel also receive certification in using the national Criminal Justice Information System. They are also required to complete ADA compliance training annually. Effective January 1, 2024, additional training will be required each year.
The 9-1-1 Centers across the United States answer an average of 600,000 calls daily with over 80% of those coming from cell phones. As of April 10, 2023, Seminole County dispatchers have answered 1,500 calls to 9-1-1 and have handled 4,167 calls for service this year.
The past few years have been challenging for everyone. Seminole County E-911 personnel preserved and rose to the challenge. Technological advances continue to increase. For several years, Seminole County has been able to receive a text message reporting emergencies if the caller is unable to make a voice call. They are now in the testing phase for receiving photos and videos from a 911 caller. The Sheriff’s Office has recently contracted with Live911 and deputies are able to listen to 911 calls from their patrol cars.
Pam Helms has been with Seminole County E-911 for 12 years. Tonya Wilkerson came to Seminole County in 2019, after serving 20 years with Early County Sheriff’s Office /E911. Chris Knight has been with Seminole County a total of 16 years, Shakela Wimbush is in her fourth year, and Jasmine Whitaker is in her third year. Paula Whaley serves as the E-911 Coordinator and has been with Seminole County since 1994. She also serves as the southwest regional director for the Georgia Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association.