From The Ground Up

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

ACE Achievers

Michael Peoples has been with Morris County Emergency Communication Center (ECC), Morris Plains, New Jersey (USA), from the ground up. Literally. Peoples is the Director of the regional consolidated communication center, overseeing the work of 112 employees dispatching local police, fire, and emergency medical personnel. In 2022, the EMDs, EFDs, and EPDs processed 682,577 requests for service and answered a total of 415,717 phone calls, inclusive of 92,193 911 emergency phone calls.1

While the numbers are impressive, they don’t begin to tell the magnitude of what the center does. The employees—and that includes management and Emergency Dispatchers—are integral in advancing a center dedicated to core values like integrity, collaboration, accountability, and service. “Everyone has a piece of the responsibility,” said Peoples, who served as Chief of the Long Hill Township Police Department (Stirling, New Jersey, USA) for nearly 26 years. In 2007, he retired from the police and moved into emergency communications. “It’s taken tenacity to get where we are.” It’s also gratifying for him, he said, to have been present from the start. 

Ground up 

Morris County ECC was established in April 2006 by the Morris County Board of County Commissioners. Prior to that time, emergency dispatch was under the auspices of the Morris County Sheriff’s Department. The transfer to civilian oversight commenced the nearly 20-year journey from serving six county municipalities to 23 Morris County municipalities as the primary agency to answer all 911 calls and to dispatch local police, fire, and emergency medical personnel.Mandatory upgrading of several municipal dispatching systems and a CAD upgrade to handle expansion of municipalities gave rise to construction of an expanded $27.8 million communication center at the existing location. The center, in full operation since 2013, contains dispatch, emergency management, integrated technology, a crime lab, and a data server center. An off-site combined training and backup center is in the works. Consolidation was part of county government’s options for local government entities to achieve service efficiencies and reduce service delivery costs through sharing resources.2 “We’re a core team,” said 911 Systems Manager Dennis Snyder. Like spokes on a wheel extending from the core, everyone’s participation is critical. 

Emergency communications never stops and neither do the demands of technology and programs that bolster both customer satisfaction and employee engagement, productivity, and performance. The profession sets a pace that Peoples believes will accelerate more in the next five years than it has in the past 15 years. AI technology, drones paired with CAD, and enhanced abilities to access information from various databases are no longer just on the horizon. The challenges and opportunities, Peoples said, “keeps everyone on their toes” and on the lookout for innovation and high-quality customer service. 

Bringing forth the ideas 

Operations Manager Renee Bisson instantly connected to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) when noting the organization’s Missing Kids Readiness Program. The program promotes policies and best practices for responding to calls of missing and sexually exploited children. Law enforcement agencies and emergency communication centers are encouraged to participate by completing free online training and adopting or having written policies.3  

Why not bring the prospect of joining before the board and center management, Bisson reasoned. “I’ve always been drawn to missing person cases and helping the people involved, and the program seemed to go hand in hand with our other initiatives. It prepares us to respond to these types of events.” The program, she said, complements the community goals and PPDS® Protocol 123: Missing/Runaway/Found person. Member agencies are publicly recognized by NCMEC for meeting essential training and policy elements demonstrating preparedness for responding to a missing or sexually exploited child incident.4 

Training is high priority with certifications in the IAED Emergency Telecommunicator Course (ETC), the IAED medical, fire, and police protocols, and continuous training in calltaking, radio dispatching, and peer mentoring. An average of four to six months is devoted to each new hire and sign-off is required for each step involved. “A sign-off is celebrated; everybody knows,” said Snyder, who personally congratulates the employee. “The gratification is seeing someone succeed.” 

Operations Coordinator Stephen Zenes is all about the center and employee success. He oversees protocols, quality assurance, and accreditation. Morris County ECC is a dual Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) (medical in June 2023 and police in August 2023) and is on its way to a triple ACE that will include fire. ACE is important, Zenes said. “Accreditation shows the public and staff that we are committed to providing the best practices in the industry. It’s looking at things with a fine-tooth comb,” he said. “Since we strive to be the best possible, why wouldn’t we want this?” Zenes broached the topic among Emergency Dispatchers two years ago at an in-service meeting. He talked about ACE—benefits to the public and staff and international recognition. He articulated standards and expectations. He wanted transparency to gain buy-in. They were on board, he said, although there was some hesitation common among centers going down the ACE path. “They feared increased scrutiny,” Zenes said. “I told them that in all reality, nothing was going to change. They’re awesome at what they do, and they were the ones in control to make this happen.” 

As part of the ACE process, 15 Emergency Dispatchers became certified ED-Qs. He reviewed the “do’s and don’ts” of quality assurance and highlighted areas that required coordination. Zenes told them of the responsibility associated with demonstrating a higher knowledge of protocol. “We worked very hard achieving accreditation,” he said. “It’s not something you take lightly, and the result is a huge boost for staff.” Medical accreditation took 18 months, followed by police two months later. Fire is up next and set to complete in time for announcement at NAVIGATOR 2024. He said they celebrated each ACE. Zenes said the importance of quality assurance, as embodied by ACE, goes back to when he started his public service career 34 years ago. 

“I took the philosophy of perfection to my profession,” said Zenes, who was in law enforcement prior to moving into dispatch in 1989. “I’m always striving to be the best. [Through quality assurance] You can teach an individual how to be better at what they do and continue along that path.” The list goes on from NCMEC and training certifications to ACE. Morris County ECC is also certified by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) (requires adhering to 200 best practices in public safety communications) and the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (communications best practices). It is a National Emergency Number Association (NENA) peer-recognized partner. Policies are distributed to staff and training is provided to meet the standards of each program and process. 

The programs, accreditations, and processes are noteworthy, although, as Peoples said, “It all comes down to using programs and processes correctly and having good people in the right positions.” The presence of positive and supportive leadership—and collaboration among agencies and the Morris County Board of County Commissioners—builds trust and credibility, which Peoples said complements their core values. “We’re a busy organization and got to where we are by working together through good interpersonal communication,” Peoples said. 


1 “Communication Center.” Morris County, New Jersey. https://www.morriscountynj.gov/Departments/Communication-Center (accessed Oct. 10, 2023). 

2 “A Shared Service Perspective from Morris County Shared Services.” 2009; April 7. https://icma.org/sites/default/files/301706_Morris%20County%20Powerpoint%20Presentation.pdf (accessed Oct. 11, 2023). 

3 “Missing Kids Readiness Program.” National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.  https://www.missingkids.org/content/dam/missingkids/pdfs/MKRP%20One%20Pager.pdf (accessed Oct. 11, 2023). 

4 See note 3.