KANSAS (KSNW) — A 911 dispatcher shortage continues to affect rural Kansas counties. There is work to help improve training, shorten response times, and increase responder safety.

Some departments are only budgeted for four or five dispatchers, so when one leaves, the hit is hard.

The two biggest factors causing issues for smaller departments are pay and training.

Haskell County Sheriff Troy Briggs said that currently, there are only a few courses to become a dispatcher, but not a full program.

“They come, they don’t stay long,” said Jewell County Sheriff Don Jacobs.

Jewell, Lane, and Chase counties are some of the counties dealing with keeping 911 centers fully staffed.

“Losing one person in a small agency impacts us more than it might in a larger agency,” said Chase County Sheriff Jacob Welsh.

It means more overtime and holiday work for others.

“We’ve got to get better pay out there,” said Sheriff Briggs.

Sheriff Briggs also serves as the Chairman of the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council.

Sheriff Welsh said smaller counties bring in a smaller revenue than larger counties.

“It’s hard for us to compete with some of the surrounding agencies that have a larger tax base. It wouldn’t be that hard for somebody to drive 30 minutes to go work in that community and make two, three, four dollars an hour more,” said Sheriff Welsh.

Kansas sheriffs, police chiefs, the Kansas Highway Patrol, and independent centers are pushing to build a dispatcher training program.

“It will make it more seamless because right now it is all very separate or no training you. It is just tough,” said Sheriff Briggs. He added, “If we can get these people properly trained and send them through a process they are certified, I think that begs a higher level of pay than someone just off the street.”

To help with response times and responder safety, the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council is working with its mapping provider, RapidDeploys, to develop an app called Lightning.

“It will actually show on a map to the responders in the field where the call is. It will show where the other responders are,” said Sheriff Briggs.

It will also let first responders listen to live calls in the field, helping to take the stress off of dispatchers.

Sheriff Briggs said they are hoping to get funding for the training program to have it at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in Hutchinson.

As for the new app, Kansas will be the first state to implement it.

A pilot group of responder agencies plan to start using it in early 2024.