Webster County Telecommunications Center
911 center welcomes new director
As the transition from a New Jersey company managing the Webster County Telecommunications Center to the Webster County Sheriff’s Office taking the reins, a new director of communication has been hired by the county.
Webster County Director of Communication Brain Hitchcock started in early June to oversee the transition from IXP’s management to the Sheriff’s Office over the following several weeks. He was hired by the Webster County Board of Supervisors in May with an annual salary of $75,500.
Hitchcock comes with a resume that includes nine years in the military, three decades in 911 emergency communications and many years managing emergency dispatch centers across the Midwest.
“I built new 911 centers, pulling different teams together,” he said. “The hardest one I did was Lake County, Indiana, where we had to pull together 15 different dispatch centers serving half a million people.”
He said with that dispatch center, and three other similar centers, he had to create all the standard operating procedures and all the human resources policies.
Most recently, he was the 911 manager for the city of Peoria, Illinois.
The Webster County Telecommunications Center had been under the management of the New Jersey-based IXP Corp. for the last three years. Prior to that, management of the Telecom Center would fall under the Webster County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Dodge Police Department in alternating years.
The discussion on the move to outsource management of the telecommunications center started in 2018. According to previous reporting, the Telecom Board considered outside help because the dispatch system at the time “lacked structure.”
Many local first responders opposed the move to outsource the dispatch center’s management, but in June 2019, the Webster County Telecom Board signed a five-year contract with IXP for $560,000 the first year. The Telecom Board also retained the option to opt out of the contract early if not satisfied with IXP’s service.
After Webster County Sheriff Luke Fleener took office in 2021, he looked at how the management could be brought back to Webster County.
“Across the state, there’s a lot of sheriff’s offices that run their dispatch center to control it locally and have an influence over the people that work there and listen to ways to make it better,” Fleener said.
Both men said that IXP has done a fine job of managing the Telecom Center, but having a local manager could meet the needs of the county better.
“I think it’s a little bit harder to manage from afar,” Hitchcock said. “It’s just a little bit easier when you have somebody that directly manages it.”
As he begins his role here, Hitchcock said he’s looking at the current operations of the center and seeing where improvements can be made.
“I have to interview people, I have to find out what they like and what they don’t like about the operation,” he said. “I’ll look at the technology side of things — where can improvements be made?”
He said he’ll look at the center’s standard operating procedures and update those as well.
“Long-term, we’ll be looking at what we can do to help further assist citizens that are in need, how we can speed up dispatch times and accuracy.”
Hitchcock brings a wealth of experience to the role of communications director.
Hitchcock enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1981. During advanced training for radio communication, he was recruited to work as a communication technician in the White House during the President Ronald Reagan administration.
“The class was only like 13 weeks long, but I was held over there because I had to wait for the top secret presidential clearance, which took a total of six or nine months,” he said. “They actually sent Secret Service agents up to farms that I worked at in northern Wisconsin in high school.”
Once he started at the White House, Hitchcock provided communications for the president, vice president and other staff. During his time as a communications switchboard operator, Hitchcock had a front row seat to history.
“I was at the White House switchboard in ’83 when the bombing in Beirut at the Marine barracks happened,” he recalled.
Hitchcock also remembers being at the switchboard during the invasion of Grenada in October 1983.
Hitchcock left the Army in 1989 after an injury during a leadership course in Germany left him with a dislocated hip.
In the three decades Hitchcock has worked in emergency 911 communications, he’s seen the industry go through monumental changes.
Innovations like cell phones, GPS tracking and computer technology have completely changed the landscape of emergency communications.
It wasn’t just the experience Hitchcock has gained over the years that made him a prime candidate to direct Webster County’s Telecom Center.
“When going through our interview process, one of the things that stood out was his experience, his leadership ability and that he hit a lot on customer service, which is important, I think, for people that are calling in here,” Fleener said.
Good customer service is paramount to emergency communications, Hitchcock said. “When somebody calls into 911, they’re at their worst possible time of need, and the last thing they need to be confronted by is with somebody that doesn’t care or somebody that has a brash attitude,” he said.