911 director: All calls are 911

Published 7:57 am Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Whether emergency or not, all calls coming into the Vicksburg Warren 911 Communications Center is a 911 call, 911 director Chuck Tate told the 911 Commission Tuesday.

Tate’s comments were in response to questions from Mayor George Flaggs Jr., a commissioner, about the center’s activities report submitted to the commission.

The report indicated the center handled a volume of 11,988 calls between Oct. 27 and Monday.

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The mayor in the past has questioned the high volume of calls dispatchers receive during their shifts, and has opposed Tate’s request to hire more dispatchers, although he said earlier this month he would consider adding money for two dispatchers in the city’s 2017 budget after a brief visit to the 911 Communications Center. Flaggs came under fire from dispatchers for visiting the center and leaving after one hour.

Flaggs wanted a breakdown of all 911 calls.

“Whether it’s the 911 trunk line (for emergency calls) or the 911 administrative line, they’re all 911 calls,” Tate said.

“So If I call you and ask what color shirt (Fire) Chief (Charles) Atkins is wearing, you log it,” Flaggs said.

When Tate said “yes,” Flaggs said, “So there is no such thing as emergency and non emergency.”

“Yes there is,” Tate responded. “If they come in on the 911 (emergency) trunk lines, they’re logged on the 911 trunk line. If they come in on the 911 admin line, they’re logged along those lines.

“A lot of calls to the sheriff’s office or the police department, they’re sent to the 911 admin line. They’re emergency calls, but they come in on the 911 admin line.”

After the meeting, Tate explained the report’s numbers and how the telephone system works.

“What we’re talking about is activity level,” he said. “We’re talking about what we can count, what we can measure as far as a level of activity that goes on in the center.”

He said every phone call that comes into the center requires the dispatcher to do something.

“Even when someone calls 911 by accident and they hang up before 911 answers, the phone is still ringing at 911,” he said. “So the dispatcher has to answer the phone to find out if it’s an abandoned call. If that’s a call we actually have a number associated with that we can call back, then the dispatcher has to call that number back to verify there’s not a problem.”

Some of the calls, Tate said, are from disconnected cell phones that are still able to call 911.

“The dispatcher has to answer the call. This ties up the dispatchers doing these activities. It doesn’t matter if that phone call comes in on the 911 line or through an admin line, we still have to answer the phone.”

When a person dials 911, they get the 911 emergency trunk line, known at the center as “the red line.” The center has six red lines, he said, and they are given priority over admin calls.

If the 911 trunk lines are full (busy), the other calls roll over to an admin line, he said, adding, “All these lines will ring in the com center and all have to be answered by dispatchers. That’s the activity that is going on.

He added alarm companies typically call the admin lines to report an alarm activation.

“It still may be an emergency, (but) it’s still not one of the 911 trunk lines,” he said

“The 911 trunk lines are being kept open for the people who are making a 911 call — emergencies,” Tate said, “and that’s where we go first. If every phone in there is ringing and everyone is busy, they’re going to be answering those red lines first, and the admin lines as they can get to them.”

When all 911 lines are tied up, he said, callers get a recorded message telling then the dispatchers are busy and to stay on the line. He said some people hang up before the dispatcher can answer the call. “If we have a number, we will call back, but some (callers) disconnected too soon, so we didn’t get a number and couldn’t call back.”

Tate said level of call activity varies from month to month, adding the center had over 204,000 calls in 2014.

Based on the center’s activity level, he said, it should have five 911 dispatchers working per shift, based on standards set by the National Emergency Number Association, which analyzes 911 systems.

“When we get into call volumes, and what’s an emergency and what’s not an emergency, it really doesn’t matter,” Tate said. “It’s still an activity the dispatcher has to deal with at the 911 center.”

He said some city and county agencies besides police and the sheriff’s departments refer calls to the center, adding dispatchers have received calls from people who called the city’s Action Line and were referred to 911 for something like a limb blocking a street.

“Different agencies are not helping us,” he said. “We get calls for animals here and there. Why do they not call animal control instead of 911?

“There are a lot of calls in this community that should go somewhere else besides 911, but 911 over the last few years has become the point that you can go to, and because of that, the call volume is higher.

“When they first started consolidated 911, they could handle it with two people. Now we need five, and the population hasn’t changed much, but the call volume has definitely changed.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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