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Employee Spotlight: Meet Taskforce 614

“The right people for the job don’t always come from the same background,” explains Alex McKnight, who transitioned from HHS to use his previous 911 Call Center experience to train and supervise a group of repurposed employees. “By all measures, this experiment of bringing people from other departments into an emergency 911 Call Center shouldn’t have worked, but it has. We have been fortunate to have such bright and determined people ready to adapt to anything.”

Taskforce 614 is comprised of a social worker, librarians, and a park ranger who are eagerly repurposing their roles with the County as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic closes some facilities and puts new strains on other departments. Taking their name from the Dewey Decimal Classification for prevention of infectious disease, Taskforce 614 brings existing institutional knowledge, customer service skills, and dedication to public service that makes them immediately useful at the County’s 911 Call Center. Their main focus has been helping relieve the volume of nonemergency calls. “My biggest challenge was learning how to answer calls and go through the process of entering everything into the system,” says Anna Booraem, Branch Manager of the South Buncombe Library. “There is a lot of skill and patience involved in doing it right.”

Black Mountain Library Branch Manager Melissa Pressley notes the work is a departure from what she is used to. “It’s sometimes difficult to take calls from our community members who are fearful of a potentially aggressive animal,” she says. “I’m still dedicated to helping Buncombe County and showing up for our community every day.”

Lake Julian Park Ranger Brandon Altemose describes the transition as “sudden yet engaging,” noting learning the CAD call system and industry lingo were the most difficult aspect of repurposing. “Emergency services never stop, and you never know how a day is going to pan out. The emotional impact on those in this profession cannot be understated and deserves recognition,” explains Brandon. “Temporarily assisting in this work has impressed upon me a great deal of respect and admiration for those who chose this line of work.”

For Leicester Library Branch Manager Sarah Granse, the most challenging aspect of her new role is missing her work, staff, and patrons back at the library. “I became a librarian because I wanted to help people. I’m still making connections and helping others during my reassignment, and I’m grateful to be able to offer support to the Call Center,” explains Sarah. The transition has not only taught her how to take 911 calls, but also given Taskforce 614 an appreciation for the Call Center employees. “I’m so impressed with our telecommunicators’ ability to navigate complicated call software and rotate dispatch duties, all while serving as part of a cohesive and supportive team. I already knew how hard first responders work, but now I have a deeper appreciation for how important the initial contact with citizens is in an emergency.”

Buncombe County’s response to COVID-19 has put many of its employees in foreign situations and new workspaces. The overwhelming ability to adjust and thrive is what makes the County’s workforce an invaluable asset to our community. “I am happy to be transitioned to the role I can be the most effective in supporting my community in a global emergency,” says Alex. “Public service means leaving the world a little better than it was when you came into it… Buncombe County always seems to come up with creative ways to look out for the citizens’ best interests.”

Brandon says the experience cuts to the heart of public service. “We are all part of something bigger than ourselves, and a community requires dedication and sacrifice. Simply put, one should ask themselves, ‘What can I do to help?’.”

Buncombe County would like to thank Taskforce 614 for eagerly and competently accepting new roles. We also want to take this time to highlight what Taskforce 614 has learned, our regular 911 Call Center employees can’t be thanked enough for their dedication to demanding work. Alex sums it up best: “Telecommunicators are those who are rarely seen but always heard. They are the calm voice in every emergency; the behind-the-scenes heroes who hold Emergency Services together, but never take the credit.”

If you or your team has been repurposed and would like to be featured in an Employee Spotlight, please email Dan Hesse.