We have all been there. Faced with an emergency situation, we pick up our phone and dial 9-1-1. We impatiently stand by waiting for the fire truck, ambulance or police car to arrive. We probably even fume that it’s taking so long for them to get there when in reality it only takes six or seven minutes.
We breathe a sigh of relief when the heroes that we’re expecting arrive and handle our emergency. When they leave, we thank them for their help. But what about the people on the other end of the phone?
For the third week of the Porterdale Police Department’s (PPD) Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA) we visited the Covington-Newton County 911 Communications Center. The visit gave the class the opportunity to hear how this group of heroes works and then see them in action. It was educational and eye-opening for many of us. We’ve all seen fire trucks, police cars and ambulances speeding down the street with sirens wailing and lights flashing. We’ve just never seen the process or people that put them in motion.
We were greeted by the 911 Center director, Mike Smith. Director Smith gave us an overview of the center and some important facts about it. The Covington-Newton 911 center is one of 40 nationally accredited 911 centers in Georgia. It is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The center generated over 131,000 calls last year with an average call dispatch time of 2:06. The operators work 12-hour shifts. The work station for each operator has six computer monitors, three computer keyboards and two radio microphones. The center provides fire, police, sheriff’s office and EMS dispatch for the City of Covington, Porterdale, Oxford and Newton County.
We learned that while firefighters, cops and medics deal with one call at a time, operators have to multi task. They answer 911 calls while they simultaneously monitor radio traffic from units in the field. While all operators at the Newton 911 Center answer the calls from the public, each dispatcher has the responsibility for dispatching specific agencies.
We learned that an operator can be taking a call about a rollover wreck on Interstate 20 one minute and instructing an anguished parent on how to do CPR on a child that stopped breathing the next. Or that they can be confirming a warrant on a wanted person one minute and taking a call from an excited neighbor telling them that the house next door is on fire the next. And by the way, there are people inside the house. Depending on the call volume, they could be doing it all at the same time.
We learned that people call 911 for things other than emergencies. 911 can’t help when the cable goes out. They mostly hear from us at the worst moments of our lives. They listen in a calm, professional manner and assure us that help is on the way. They save lives and they rarely get thanked. And they rarely get to hear the end of the story.
They don’t really have time, though. The phone is ringing and there is another emergency to handle…
This was a great session of the CPA. We learned much and now have a greater appreciation of another aspect of police work and public safety.
And to top off the really great session, Chief Jason Cripps took the class for ice cream after we left the 911 center.
Next class, we’re going to learn how police officers deal with domestic violence and about traffic enforcement. Stay tuned.
Darryl Welch is a community reporter for The Covington News. He can be contacted at either firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-728-1438.