E911 calls: when seconds matter

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Since the beginning of this year, over 90,000 calls have come into the Jonesboro Emergency 911 center, but how many of those calls could be considered true emergencies?

When you compare the number of true emergency calls to non-emergency calls that come in to E911, you begin to realize just what these operators have to deal with everyday.

Jonesboro E911 Fire and Dispatch Director Jeff Presley says that out of 4,000 calls to the center, only 1,000 calls are considered an emergency.

Jonesboro Fire Department Assistant Chief Kevin Miller also says that every call must be treated like a legitimate call, and that's exactly how a non-emergency call can go from being a nuisance to becoming a dangerous situation.

"We have to respond to every situation prepared for the worst," says Miller, "the sheer hazards that are encountered by simply trying to navigate these trucks through heavy roadways or heavy traffic areas can be quite challenging."

In addition to non-emergency calls flooding the E911 center, there are also very legitimate calls coming in, but the person on the line gives very little information. Take the call below for example. A man is calling in about a forest fire, but doesn't know exactly where he is.

Operator: "…and you don't know what road you're on?"

Caller: "Somebody told me it was Old Forest Road."

Operator: "Oh, Forest Road?"

Caller: "Yeah. It comes from Craighead Forest, and it comes right across…uh…that drive there and it comes straight on and then...straight on and straight on and then you make a left and come down here to where I'm at."

"People get confused," says Miller, "Depending on how serious the situation is, they can get into a panic mode. They want to give the information. They're trying to help, but they just get flustered, get confused, and it makes it very difficult for them to try and explain: 'I can hear you. I can tell you're coming, but I can't quite get you to where I'm at.' That becomes frustrating on both sides because we're wanting to get there and offer whatever aid we can, and it becomes quite challenging."

Wondering what the most common misuse of 911 is? Presley says it's when the power goes out. The phones light up with people wanting to know when the power is coming back on.

Can you get into serious trouble for making bogus calls to 911? Ask the Jonesboro woman who served time in jail for harassing communications after making 45 calls to the dispatch center in one hour.

Before you call 911, make absolutely sure you have a legitimate emergency. You can hear more examples of bogus emergency calls by watching "When Second Matter" on our online video center.

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