Handling emergency calls during winter weather

Published: Dec. 22, 2022 at 8:08 PM CST
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - With winter weather in Arkansas, crashes can be guaranteed, and first responders need to know where to go first.

The morning of Thursday, Dec. 22 at the E-911 center in Jonesboro started out slow for dispatchers working.

Across their computer screens were ARDOT cameras, most of them focused on conditions in the west, where the wintry conditions were already wreaking havoc.

The cameras showed crashes in cities like Conway, a frozen bridge in Springdale, and one screen showed the storm nearing Jonesboro.

“Just wait till the afternoon,” a dispatcher said.

Supervisor Mellenee Bennett has worked as a dispatcher for over 20 years. She said the priority is to get dispatchers to the building if winter weather becomes a threat.

“We are first responders. We are the first person that whoever is having an emergency, we are their lifeline,” she said.

The E-911 center has a few windows, but none of the dispatchers could see through them. Instead, they rely on much of what everyone else does…

”We rely on our news stations to help us know when the weather is going to be here. We also do the iDrive Arkansas. We have those apps in the dispatch center that we can look at as well,” Bennett said.

Once the afternoon came and the dispatchers on shift went home, the dispatchers on the new shift would handle the mayhem.

Bennett said not all calls that come in during winter weather are for crashes.

Often, the dispatchers are a fountain of information for the public.

“A lot of calls, people will have not prepared their homes busted pipes. We have to tell them who they need to call for that. Their electricity may go out,” Bennett said.

However, information the dispatchers don’t need to give out is on road conditions.

The city of Jonesboro asked people not to call the dispatchers, as the information is available via iDriveArkansas.com.

As the afternoon came, so did the snow, and as if on cue, the calls followed.

There were vehicles stalled, crashes, and power outages. At times, the dispatchers had difficulty sending help.

“When you have a lot of priority calls come in at the same time and you’re trying to figure out the resources to send… there may not always be what you need available out there at that moment,” dispatcher Sierra Long said.

Bennett said many of the crashes are avoidable.

“90% of them are preventable if people would just stay home. I know people do have to get out, people must be at work, but have someone bring you that knows how to drive on the ice and the snow,” she said.

The E911 center is also prepared for the worst, as the building has a generator in the event of a power outage.

In the end, the dispatchers are ready for the winter and to answer the call no matter what.