When Jean Combs started as a 911 dispatcher 19 years ago, she worked with a single panel in front of her and kept all records on paper.
"I was trained on paper and I still use paper," Combs said.
But paper is now just a backup, an unassuming sidekick to the bright battery of computer screens that surround Combs and hold her attention while she works at Bluegrass 911, the call center that serves Lincoln and Garrard counties.
Four screens sit at Combs' L-shaped dispatcher station, while four more line the wall above her and four more sit in front of her co-worker and fellow Waynesburg resident, Vicki Dowell.
Similar clusters line the other walls of the main call center office inside the Billy C. Moss Municipal Center in Lancaster.
Friday afternoon it was pretty quiet by Bluegrass 911 standards — there were only seven active events showing on the main map of Lincoln and Garrard.
Combs said upgrades in 911 technology over the years mean she's now able to get all kinds of vital information instantly and share it with emergency responders in the field.
Previously, she would have to call other official organizations and wait for them to look something up for her before she could radio it back to responders. Now she uses one of the many databases sitting ready at her fingertips and the info pops up.
Combs said she has no doubt new 911 technology makes Lincoln and Garrard counties safer.
But that technology is not cheap — as Bluegrass 911's current computer systems approach the end of their lifespans, board members are considering the center's next technology upgrade, expected to cost at least $300,000.
Bluegrass 911 Director Russ Clark said the demand for better and better 911 service is on the rise and he doesn't expect that demand to slow down any time soon.
No one wants to hear that there was technology available that could have saved their loved one's life, but the 911 center couldn't afford it, he said.
"I think it's going to be a continuing battle because technology and equipment (have) to be replaced and people (want) more service," he said. "There's more going on; there's more travel. More is happening."
It is this demand for 911 service combined with an ongoing decline in the number of people who pay for landline telephones that led officials in Lincoln and Garrard counties to begin pursuing a change in how Bluegrass 911 is funded.
Pending final approval from Lincoln County Fiscal Court, the counties are set to do away with a $3 monthly fee currently charged to all landline telephones and implement a new $2.50 monthly fee on all water meters, which will become Bluegrass 911’s new main source of income.
It's a change necessitated by the continually shrinking market for landline telephones, Clark said.
Reversing the trend
Clark said every year, Bluegrass 911 sees a decline of about 6 percent in the number of landlines — and consequently, 911 funding from landlines.
That 6-percent trend has been going for about three years, he added.