Waukesha 911 call center expands to help residents

Posted at 5:11 PM, Apr 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-10 18:11:26-04

Waukesha County residents can feel a little safer thanks to a new communications building built to better serve the community. 

The 7,500 square foot facility has added high tech meeting rooms, training facilities and room for more 911 staff. It also should be able to run through the worst disasters. 

This week is Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week so it's fitting to cut the ribbon on the new facility today. The building can withstand an EF-2 Tornado and continue operations.

But it's more than just a tornado-proof building. It can withstand other severe storms or man-made disasters so they can continue to serve the public in its time of greatest need.

It's named after a man who spent a lot of time in the call center, Bill Stolte. He passed away last year but his fingerprints are seen all over the facility.

"The safety of the citizens is what they're all striving for," Nancy Stolte, Bill's wife said. "To have a great facility to prepare and educate and train and practice so it becomes muscle memory and seamless should an event occur is a wonderful tribute."

It's jumped into 2018 on the technology side. Last year they added the ability to text-to-911 in case of emergencies where you can't speak. It's an important addition for them but they also have much more space. 

"The space in and of itself is much bigger than our old emergency operations center," Christine Bannister, Communications Center Supervisor said. "We're able to house and help not only our county but other counties. From a regional perspective, we can host many individuals that would come and help for a large emergency incident."

On top of Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week, it's also National Public Safety Telecommunicator week. A week to show appreciation for the difficult job these dispatchers have to do. 

"We call ourselves the first, first responder," Bannister said. "As much as we want to honor our partners on the road responding, we want to honor these folks on the phones."

It's a job that can take its toll on the dispatchers. So part of the expansion includes a quiet room where they can retreat after tough calls. 

"It's pretty intense at times," Sarah Cook, a dispatcher and trainer said. "I have that feeling in the pit of my gut. Ok, keep it together. Stay calm for the person on the other end of the phone. I handled a call in January that was stressful with the death of a minor. I had to go [in the quiet room]. I was emotional. It lets me decompress and come back in and reset.

The public is encouraged to come out and tour the new facility Tuesday evening between 5 and 7 p.m.