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911 director has seen changes in 21 years of service

Has taken position in Hutchinson

Staff writer

“I started dispatching back when there were a couple of radios, a yellow pad of paper, and three or so phones on the desk,” said Michele Abbott, Marion County emergency management and communications director.

Abbott grew up in Lincolnville, and after college she was ready to return home. The only ad in the newspaper was for a dispatcher, so in May 1989, she started working for Marion County 911 for a wage of $5.15 per hour.

When she began, calling 911 simply directed a call to the appropriate office. Dispatchers didn’t have information about the location of the call. Technology has advanced to the point that dispatchers even have the longitude and latitude where a cell phone call originates, Abbott said.

In 1995 or 1996, Abbott’s supervisor took a job elsewhere, so she became communications director. In 1999 there was an opening for an emergency management director, and Abbott encouraged county commissioners to merge the positions, which they did.

Her former husband, Lee Becker, was appointed sheriff in 1999 and was elected in 2000, so commissioners removed the communications department from the sheriff’s authority, Abbott said.

When she assumed emergency management duties, it wasn’t much more than responding to weather. But a colossal shift occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck New York City and the Pentagon. Emergency management responsibilities increased dramatically afterward.

Abbott said she views emergency management responsibilities as resource management. She said her job is to get the right equipment and information to necessary agencies during and after emergencies.

She has aggressively pursued state and federal grants to improve equipment for local agencies. When grants are made available, the funds are already allocated, so the county should do its best to get all the resources it can, she said.

Abbott met with county commissioners in closed session Monday to discuss personnel for 12 minutes. When the meeting returned to open session, Sheriff Rob Craft joined them in closed session for another 15 minutes. When they returned to open session, Abbott announced she had accepted a job directing Hutchinson and Reno County 911 services and would leave in late October.

“Marion County is in a good position,” Commission Chairman Randy Dallke said, thanking Abbott for her 21 years of service.

After the meeting, Abbott said she was attracted to the job in Hutchinson because it is a single position with a larger department. She said she wanted to focus on doing the best job she could at a single job.

“I feel like I’m ready for the move,” she said.

She will have to move to Hutchinson for the job, because residency is a requirement of the position.

Abbott said she thought there were people in the communications department qualified to fill the opening created by her departure. The department is staffed with knowledgeable, caring people.

“The staff that is up there right now is the best we’ve had in years,” she said.

Last modified Sept. 23, 2010

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