OES director called on to coordinate 911 project

August 02, 1998

OES directorBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer [enlarge]

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - One of Dave Michael's responsibilities as the new director of the Office of Emergency Services in Morgan County, W.Va., is to coordinate the county's conversion to an enhanced 911 system.

It's a challenge Michael, 39, said he is proud to take on, considering the intensifying need for a new system and its long-term repercussions.

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"Whatever we do at this point in time is going to affect people 20, 30, 40 years down the road. If we do it correctly, everyone will achieve the greatest benefit," he said.


The Clear Spring resident also has a personal stake in seeing the county upgrade its emergency dispatch service to cut valuable response time.

His mother still lives in Berkeley Springs, where Michael was born, raised and graduated from Berkeley Springs High School in 1976.

Actually, the primary responsibility of the OES director is to provide support services for the county's fire and rescue companies in the event of a major emergency, like a flood, tornado or severe storm, said Michael, who started the job July 20.

"Hopefully, that won't occur for about six months ... let me get my feet wet on other issues before I have to dive in the pool," he said.

Coordinating the establishment of an enhanced 911 system is a secondary responsibility, Michael said.

However, with the push to get a county ordinance authorizing the system passed by Oct. 1, it's taking up the bulk of his time between various committee meetings at night and clerical-type work in the day, he said.

At this point, the OES director position is part-time - 19 hours a week with an annual salary of $7,000, said Michael, who said his work as an environmental consultant for a Clear Brook, Va., manufacturer allows him the needed flexibility.

But it could become a full-time job once the new 911 center is up and running if its oversight becomes an additional responsibility, he said.

Though it's been years in the planning stages, details of the enhanced 911 service aren't written in stone yet, Michael said.

It's a huge endeavor, requiring the help of numerous volunteers with expertise in the different aspects of the project, he said.

Under the county's current system, emergency calls come in either on a seven-digit emergency number or 911 to War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs, where hospital employees answer the phones and dispatch help as just one of their responsibilities, Michael said.

The enhanced 911 system would send calls to a dispatch center where trained dispatchers would receive 911 calls that automatically provide the caller's location and directions, he said.

Two things need to be accomplished - hopefully simultaneously - for such a system to be fully operational, Michael said.

One component is to create a countywide addressing system that eliminates duplicated and similar road names and assigns numerical addresses, even in rural areas, he said.

In the works with an addressing committee, it's expected to take one to two years, Michael said.

The other component is to establish the dedicated dispatch center, which should move fairly quickly once the go-ahead is given from the Morgan County Commission, he said.

His task is to work out the details of the proposed ordinance drafted by the 911 committee so it can be presented to the commission, hopefully this month, Michael said.

Mainly, that task requires figuring how much it will cost to buy needed equipment and get the center running in order to determine how much of a fee must be assessed to county residents, he said.

A 1981 Shepherd College graduate, Michael said he got the experience he needs for this job while working as an environmental specialist for Seaward International, which has its own hazardous materials response unit.

His job entailed a lot of emergency planning, including developing a contingency plan for bringing in additional resources if needed during an emergency, and an evacuation plan for employees, he said.

"I did a similar thing on a smaller scale," Michael said.

Michael does more than just plan for emergencies.

An emergency medical technician, he's been running with Clear Spring Rescue Squad Company 49 since 1996.

Because just a few minutes can mean the difference between life and death, or saving a home, it's vital rescue workers know exactly where they're going, Michael said.

New residents - there are more and more of them - often don't know the area well enough to give good directions, he said.

With the volunteer crunch, there's also a greater reliance on mutual aid from other fire and rescue companies, which generally don't have the familiarity with the area that local companies have, Michael said.

The key to accomplishing the massive project will be teamwork, he said.

Michael said he's happy just to be a part of something so important.

"It's kind of like constructing a building or a bridge. Every time you go by it, you can say, 'I was part of that team,'" he said.

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