New dispatch director Allen learns that times have been a-changing

Tim Allen stands inside the Huntington County dispatch center on Wednesday, July 3. Allen, himself a former dispatcher, became the new combined dispatch director on June 24, after working 15 years at the Parkview Huntington Family YMCA.
Tim Allen stands inside the Huntington County dispatch center on Wednesday, July 3. Allen, himself a former dispatcher, became the new combined dispatch director on June 24, after working 15 years at the Parkview Huntington Family YMCA. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

As the new director of combined dispatch for Huntington County, Tim Allen has learned, among other things, that the times, they have definitely been a-changing.

That’s because, before Allen went to work at the Parkview Huntington Family YMCA, he worked for Huntington City Dispatch for a little more than a decade, and he has jumped in with both feet to learn the new technology supporting the county’s dispatch and emergency communications systems.

While he was a city dispatcher, Allen volunteered at the Y, then worked there part time, then was offered a full-time position as sports director.

After 15 years of employment, he left the Y as director of development and started his new position with the county on June 24.

“I was contacted by a few people here in the community that asked me if I would be interested in the job,” he says. “I was flattered, honestly, that they thought I could do the job, and I was interested as well. I knew how dispatch ran, and I knew the importance of it, and having dispatched before, I understood the impact that you feel helping others.”

Allen likens being a dispatcher to working at the Y in that both jobs help people; but in dispatch, that help is oftentimes in the form of a crisis or emergency.

“There are different consequences,” he explains. “Part of the things I love about the Y is the fact that you felt like you were making a difference. …  It was going to take something pretty important or pretty special for me to leave. And this, I felt, was that special and important.”

Allen is concentrating on learning the administrative duties of running the dispatch system, but will likely move into doing some of the dispatch duties as well down the road. He says he has a top-notch crew who work the console in the dispatch center, who often go unheralded.

“I just want to make it the best that it can be for our crew of dispatchers, who are fantastic. We have a really nice variety of people that work in there now,” he says. “In a lot of cases, Dispatch is the first contact people have with any type of law enforcement or public safety, and it’s if they have problems, or there is a problem. … God bless the dispatch that we have, because they are a very dedicated group.”

The types of calls coming through dispatch are different now, too, Allen says, adding that in the last five years, the changes have been dramatic in how both county and city law enforcement and emergency responders have had to do their jobs, especially in response to the opioid crisis.

“When I worked for over a decade previously, I’ll bet I heard the word ‘heroin’ 10 times a year,” he explains, “and they might hear it 10 times a week nowadays. It’s very, very challenging.”

Learning the technology that has changed over the years will be another of Allen’s goals. Allen credits his assistant director, Tony Ehler, with playing a big role in getting him up to speed on the workings of the department and pointing him in the right direction.

The county will be welcoming a new Motorola radio system, which is slated to be installed somewhere near the end of August. Allen says the system will provide cutting-edge technology and reduce “drops” in radio traffic, making for better communications between dispatchers and officers. The system should also make logging and documenting fire, police and EMA calls easier.

An additional goal will be to fill all the dispatch positions – largely part time – that are currently open in the department.

“There’s also the challenge of the employment atmosphere we’re in right now,” he says. “It’s pretty competitive, so we’re trying to figure out the best way to make sure we’re competitive for those employees.”

After being in the director’s spot for a couple of weeks, Allen is confident that he can accomplish his goals, even though he adds there is a lot for him to learn. But he also adds that he’s very fortunate, thanks to his staff and the support he’s received from them, the police chief, sheriff, commissioners, County Council and others.

“I hope the community understands just how hard our dispatch center works and how much we care about the work that we do. Our job is to keep the officers and the community as safe as we can, get information from the people that call here and make sure that things are handled as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he says. “My expectations here are set pretty high. But what I’m finding here is that expectations are already set pretty high, and I am just making my way into it. Nobody wants to foul anything up when you get in; you just want to find more success, and … I can see that things are being done really well now.”