In the Know column: What happens when you call 911?
There are 12 staff members that work in our communications/dispatch center which consists of 10 full-time dispatchers, a lead dispatcher and a dispatch supervisor.
The thought of having to dial 911 for an emergency can be intimidating and scary. The likelihood is that most people will have to dial 911 for some reason at some time in their life. That means it is important for people to be comfortable calling 911. By having an idea what to expect, the call can be less scary.
All calls to 911 that are made in Douglas County are answered by dispatchers at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO). That alone can be comforting in the sense that the people answering your emergency call are familiar with Douglas County.
There are 12 staff members that work in our communications/dispatch center which consists of 10 full-time dispatchers, a lead dispatcher and a dispatch supervisor. Each of these people have been trained to handle the calls that come to our office. They are all people that care about the community and the people we serve.
Compassion is a quality they all possess, but just as important, they are also skilled at controlling a call to get the information needed to safely get emergency responders on the way to the call. Dispatchers often work as a team so that while one dispatcher is talking to the caller, another dispatcher is dispatching emergency services. DCSO dispatchers are responsible for dispatching all emergency services in Douglas County, which includes local law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical services. We are also able to communicate by radio with state law enforcement, local public works and other entities.
When a person calls 911, a loud siren-like ringtone alerts dispatchers that we are receiving an emergency call. The ringtone is substantially different from the ringtone of our business lines. As quickly as possible, a dispatcher answers that call by saying “Douglas County 911, what is the address of your emergency.” The location of the call is vital so the dispatcher will verify the location again and then move on to the reason for the call. When a call is made from a land-line, the address for that number is displayed in dispatch and plotted on their map but still needs to be confirmed. When a call is made from a cellular phone, the location of the phone is plotted on the map. The location of that cellular call is fairly accurate but has to be confirmed. Over 90% of our 911 calls are now made from cellular phones.
Because we can see the location of the call, not all calls will be answered as quickly if we are receiving multiple calls from the same location. A person that is in a situation where talking is not possible, can call 911 by using Text-to-911. This service can be important for people that are hearing impaired or deaf and also for people that are in a dangerous situation. The dispatcher will try to switch the call to a voice call, if possible, to get more detailed and timely information, but will communicate by text if that is not possible. An important thing to know about Text-to-911 is that no location information is available to dispatch from these types of calls so that information has to be provided by the caller.
When the location of the call is established, the dispatcher will begin asking for information about the purpose of the call. The dispatcher will get as much detailed information as possible so that everyone at the location and the emergency responders are as safe as possible. The dispatcher has to be calm and in control of the call to get this information, which can be a difficult task if a caller is upset or emotional. Dispatchers understand that callers may be emotional and are skilled at calming people and working through the call to ensure that everyone is safe. Dispatchers are also trained and certified to give emergency medical information and use protocol provided by Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) to assist callers with first aid procedures until emergency responders arrive.
Whatever your emergency may be, we want you to be comfortable calling 911. We hope that knowing there are well trained, caring dispatchers answering your calls will take away any fear or intimidation you might feel when making that call.
Troy Wolbersen is the Douglas County sheriff. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.