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CenCom building a disaster itself
"This is 911, what are you reporting? asks Sue Kriegel. Her fingers briskly tap across a keyboard, typing in key information to help emergency response officials know what they're getting into.I want to report an assault, said a Bremerton woman. My fiance is outside, locked out of the house. I need an officer here.Kriegel, headphone and speaker in place, asks the woman for as much information as she can supply.Where are you? What is your fiance's name? Have you both been drinking? she asks, typing each response into a computer report. A map pops up on Kriegel's computer screen, indicating the site at which the alleged assault is, at that moment, taking place. OK. Stay inside and keep yourself safe and an officer will be there soon.Pressing the Enter button, Kriegel transmits the woman's report to the appropriate law enforcement dispatcher working the 911 floor. In turn, that dispatcher submits the report - in this case - to a police officer patrolling that particular area. Depending on the situation, law enforcement officers, firefighters or both could be called to the scene.A law enforcement officer arrives on the scene minutes after the original 911 call comes through.Kriegel is a daytime, primary call receiver for Kitsap County's Central Communications (CenCom) department. She is used to overhearing a torrent of profanity and other disturbing noises as she answers phones and takes down emergency information. Sometimes there are happy endings, other times there aren't.Just as she hangs up from that call, another one comes through.911, what are you reporting? she asks in a melodic, comforting voice.CenCom Director Ron McAffee calls his crew on the 911 floor the heart of emergency response in Kitsap County. In a certain sense, that's true, since they serve as an information conduit between Kitsap residents in need and the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office, police forces patrolling the county's four cities, the fire districts and the tribes.CenCom call receivers and dispatchers handled 232,000 calls at the facility throughout all of last year, a number that has grown by 380 percent since CenCom first started up in 1976.While the need for a 911 service in Kitsap has grown astronomically, CenCom's facility has atrophied. The earthquake that hit the Puget Sound area in February didn't improve matters, either.The 911 building is an add-on and remodel to the old Warren Avenue Bridge toll booth. Before CenCom officials moved in 25 years ago, the structure was developed to last at least a decade.Dayshift supervisor Linda Ficarra walks about the 911 office on a recent Monday, wending her way around cubicles, computer consoles, radios and phone systems. She wants to make sure all her dispatchers and call receivers, including Kriegel, have what they need to get the day's job done.It's a bit challenging to move about the dispatch floor.Some aisles are so narrow that passing employees squeeze by one another, trying not to catch purse straps or bump into a nearby chair or console.If I need to move a chair from one end of the room to another, like by my desk, said Ficarra, I have to roll it around the perimeter of the room, rather than across, because the aisles are too narrow.Roughly a decade ago, as the building settled, telltale few cracks formed on the eastern side of the building. Although narrow windows adorn the top of that same wall, the cracks allowed call receivers working the graveyard shift to see the sun rise up the wall every morning.The building's storage units are already stuffed to the rafters, so CenCom brought in a trailer that is parked out back, near the radio tower. Inside, some employees work at a small station, and the rest of the space is used to store computer and radio equipment.Aside from all that, the February earthquake rattled the building to the point where metal doors can't close anymore.Shortly after the quake, Emergency Management officials flooded the 911 offices, operating phone lines and other communication devices in an already clogged up hallway. The emergency dispatch center, filled with training equipment, had to be cleaned out before it was put into full use.That's just not an ideal situation, said Ficarra.Although the job is tough and often frought with abuse, and the environs are less than cheerful, dispatchers and call receivers overall remain upbeat.You have to not take it too seriously or you'll start second-guessing yourself, said Tonya Chessie, an emergency dispatcher for the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office.And, as Kriegler says, there are great points to the job. Just that morning, she helped a husband and father deliver his third child. The man frantically called 911 from a cell phone. He and his wife were on the side of the highway, just outside of Poulsbo.I remember asking him how far apart the contractions were, she said. He responded by saying he saw the head crowning.The couple delivered a girl. "