Craighead County 911 Responders

February 6, 2004 -- Posted at 4:42 pm CST

JONESBORO—The death of a Memphis man raises questions about the effectiveness of the 9-1-1 Emergency Response System.

Back in July a 63 year old man had a heart attack at a Memphis pool hall. Several 911 calls were made, and 45 minutes later an ambulance arrived, but it was too late. It turns out, there were 4 locations with EMS personnel within a 5 minute drive of the heart attack victim. This mishap would likely not happen in Craighead County.

"If we get a call that's borderline and we don't know which one to send, we'll send either or we'll send both just to get the assistance out there," said Craighead County 911 Director Bob Andrews.

Andrews operates a group of 17 full time employees; 4 people are answering calls at all times.

"We're everything in Craighead County. If you dial 911 it comes to this entity and we dispatch it out," said Andrews.

When someone makes a 911 call, their phone number comes up on a specific computer screen. The responder then takes down their address, types it into another computer and a corresponding map pops up.

"Last year we had the accident with the Jonesboro Auto Auction. At that point we sent the Sheriff's Department, the Police Department, the Fire Department just to get help there," said Andrews.

Knowing who to send isn't the problem for 911 operators. Their biggest challenge is prioritizing emergencies.

"The barking dog or the kids throwing rocks can hold off a little bit," said Andrews. "People expect that when you call police you're going to get them there in 2 minutes because you may have seen an officer just drive by. You may have seen him drive by, but that doesn't mean he's not doing anything. He's going to another call he's got to go to now."

In January 911 operators in Craighead County answered 24,000 calls; a little over 1,000 were actual emergencies.