New dispatch equipment that has been installed at Highway Patrol division headquarters in Richfield is providing faster responses to emergency situations in south-central Utah, as well as better protection for officers in the field.

Moving to new headquarters at First West and Seventh South in the Richfield Shopping Plaza has provided additional space for modern, high-tech equipment, said Kathy Johnson, communications manager."The system takes us from the '40s to a totally modern operation for a minimum amount of money, and it should save lives."

She said the new dispatch/computer system allows all emergency operations "to be speeded up, and new programs added for the safety of the officers. If you can get an ambulance to a scene in three minutes instead of five, that could be critical."

She said the system eliminates "hand logging" of radio calls and responses. Instead they are displayed on a screen and filed on discs.

The new equipment automatically flashes a "red alert" message on the dispatching screen if an officer is not in radio contact with the dispatcher within a specified time.

Because of an unlimited computer filing capacity and instant recall, dispatchers can warn officers if a vehicle they are stopping is stolen or if there have been previous problems at a location. It can also provide data about whether a person is wanted or may be dangerous.

Another advantage of the new system is automatic scheduling of tow trucks. Dispatchers generally rotate their calls for tow trucks among businesses so that the policy is fair to everyone involved. A business that is next in rotation for tow truck service is automatically displayed on the screen so dispatchers don't have to determine who they should call.

Johnson said additional space will be provided and some equipment relocated during a major remodeling project that is expected to be completed in early July.

One service the center lacks is an emergency calling system, but efforts have begun to get a 911 emergency calling program, the communications manager said.

The center broadcasts to officers in Sevier, Sanpete, Piute, Wayne, Garfield and Kane counties in Utah and dispatches to Page, Ariz., under a separate contract. It also ties in with the Utah Department of Transportation on one channel.

To transmit and receive radio calls over such a large geographical area, nine transmitters are required.

Transmitters are located at Monroe Peak for Piute County; White Pine for Salina Canyon and northern Sanpete County; Barney Top for Garfield and Kane counties; Teasdale for Wayne County; Moccasin for Kane County; Levan for Sanpete and Juab counties; Salina to serve the higher areas of Salina Canyon; and an emergency service channel for Hanksville and Loa.

Johnson said the center employs four other full-time and two-part time dispatchers. The center's radio engineer is Al Higgs.