Jonesboro E-911 adds new positions, changes protocol

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – The City of Jonesboro changed up the way calls are answered through its Emergency 911 police dispatch. Two new operators will soon handle most of the calls, cutting down the time radio dispatchers spend on the line. The changes are making other police departments take notice.

Last year in Jonesboro, more than 240,000 calls were answered, "Hello, 911, what's your emergency?" But, now, people calling in an emergency will hear two new voices on the other end of the line.

"They'll be manning the phones for the 911 and non-emergency lines," said Jeff Presley, director of E-911, about his recent hires.

The City of Jonesboro set aside about $50,000 to hire two new phone operators. The city decided to separate its radio dispatchers from those answering phone calls, an unusual approach for this area.

"Most dispatch centers, they operate as a joint dispatch-radio operator position," Presley noted. "What we're doing is taking the radio away from the call taker."

Radio dispatchers previously took 911 calls while also relaying messages to emergency personnel, but the new phone operators have taken away some of the stressful balancing act.

"It's going to take a lot of stress off the 911 dispatchers," said Johnine Polston, a training officer at E-911. "They're going to be able to free up their time from actually having to take very many calls and to actually being able to speak to officers, to first responders."

The new employees began a three-month training process a few weeks ago. They first learn the basics of taking an emergency call, and then graduate onto more specific training.

"Their next steps are going to do some FEMA training," Polston said. "They're going to do some ACIC training, level one, in February."

Polston is teaching the new employees how to best handle the unexpected, but Presley says the job will always keep them on their toes.

"The call takers are going to be very busy," he said. "If we have a caller that needs help where we need to stay on board with them, the call taker is going to be there for them. Radio operators don't always have that luxury of staying on the line with someone, so a call taker is going to be a very important part of our operation."

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