When the phone rings at the Grove 911 dispatch center, the caller on the other end may be in a life-threatening situation.
As the first line of defense in emergency situations, dispatch operators are well aware that their response to a ringing phone could be a matter of life and death. That is why it’s imperative that they get the facts and refrain from making assumptions.
“An assumption would be an error on our part,” said Grove Dispatch Supervisor Sherrie Bartley.
The Grove 911 center handles an average of 300 calls per month.
“The questions we ask depend on what type of call it is,” Bartley said.
She explained that dispatchers always have to ask the caller’s name, phone number and address.
“Most people who call 911 assume we have that information, but the information that comes up on the dispatch screen is subject to error just like anything else,” Bartley said. “It all has been inputted by hand.”
In addition, she said, there are other factors.
“Someone may have moved and kept the same phone number and the phone company might not have changed the address yet,” she said. “Or someone could have passed a fire or an incident on the way home, and it’s not actually happening at the address they are calling from.”
Bartley said that every time someone calls 911, it is the dispatcher’s duty to verify all the information.
Beyond the basic information dispatchers ask each caller, there are questions they must ask which depend on what type of call it is.
For instance, someone who is calling for an ambulance will be asked who the patient is, as well as the patient’s age, what’s wrong, and where the patient is.
“We have to determine if they are in our jurisdiction,” Bartley said.
She said that if someone calls about a traffic accident, the dispatcher will ask for a vehicle description as well as a location.
“If we get multiple calls we have to verify whether it’s the same accident or different ones. Sometimes the locations people give might vary a little bit, but we can tell if it’s the same accident if they give us similar vehicle descriptions,” she noted.
Bartley said that a domestic disturbance call requires the dispatcher to ask for even more information. They have to find out who the victim is, and whether anyone is injured.
“We also have to ask who the suspect is, what vehicles the suspect might leave the scene in, what type of weapons might be available to the suspect, and whether the suspect is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs,” she said.
“We need to know as much as possible about anything that could endanger the officers, so we can let them know what they might be walking into,” she explained.
Bartley said that when someone calls to report a crime, they should be ready with all the information they can gather.
“We’ll need all the suspect information they can provide,” Bartley said. “Height, weight, clothing descriptions, and any identifying marks like scars or tattoos.”
She said vehicle descriptions should be as detailed as possible, including tags, color, make and model, and any bumper stickers.
“Any detail helps – like a Confederate Flag sticker in the window, or a dent – something to set it apart from any other blue Toyota officers might see on the street,” she said.
She said the vehicle’s direction of travel and the time lapsed between when the witness sees the crime and when the call is made is also very important.
Interim Police Chief Mark Morris said people calling 911 should understand that the dispatchers are not delaying sending help just to ask them questions.
“Help is normally sent out immediately when someone calls,” Morris said. “When someone is under stress, they may think it takes a long time to answer all the questions, when it actually just takes a few moments. The important thing is that they understand that there is already help on the way.”
He also said that the public should be aware that the 911 number is strictly for emergencies. Callers who want address directions, or are experiencing power outages, etc. should not call 911.
“The lines need to remain open for people who need them,” Morris said. “If somebody calls 911 on a non-emergency, they could be taking away resources from someone who truly has an emergency.”