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911 calls exceed averages
Hall: More staff may be needed

Friday, January 25, 2013

From Bulletin staff reports

A heavy volume of calls to the Martinsville-Henry County E911 Communications Center may prompt a proposal to increase the center’s staff.

“We see a real need to augment (increase) the staff,” County Administrator Tim Hall said at Tuesday’s meeting of the Henry County Board of Supervisors.

He did not make a specific proposal on the staff, but said he was “floored” by the high numbers of calls, many of them nonemergency, that were coming to the center. He also cited the need to better educate the public not to make nonemergency calls to the E911 communications center.

Hall made those comments after J.R. Powell, director of the communications center, gave statistics showing the center has a heavy call volume and work load and after Powell gave an update on the center’s emergency medical dispatch (EMD) service, which went into operation in October.

Powell’s statistics show the call volume and work load of dispatchers at the center are higher than national averages for a medium-sized dispatch center.

Powell examined four main criteria to illustrate the Martinsville-Henry County Dispatch Center’s workload:

• The number of agencies served by the center. The national average for a medium-sized dispatch center is 12; Martinsville-Henry County serves 19.

• The number of services provided. The national average is seven; the local dispatch center provides 13.

• The total number of annual dispatched calls. The national average is 54,000, and the local dispatch center had 84,045 in 2012.

• The average number of calls processed annually per dispatcher. The national average is 5,200, while the local average was 9,176.

Dispatch centers are assigned sizes based on a formula that incorporates the number of dispatchers at the center, the number of phone lines and the number of people served.

For example, Powell said medium-sized dispatch centers have between 14 and 28 dispatchers. The Martinsville-Henry County center has 19 dispatchers, putting it on the smaller end of the medium-size designation.

He also said that people from out of state who have visited the center don’t see how the center’s staff can handle the workload. People from such places as Little Rock, Ark., and Colorado have visited the center, he said.

Powell said that less than half the calls received at the center — 84,045 out of 174,379 — were true emergencies in which law enforcement, fire or rescue agencies had to be dispatched.

The center staff tries to educate callers that they should call only to report emergencies, Powell said, adding that some people have been charged criminally after continuing to make nonemergency calls.

In discussing the center’s emergency medical dispatch service, Powell told the supervisors Tuesday, “Seconds mean lives.” He added that the human brain begins to die in few minutes without oxygen.

During an interview with the Bulletin in September, Powell said that with the EMD service, when a call concerns a medical issue, dispatchers have pre-established, medically approved questions to ask the callers. Their answers to those questions are used to determine the chief complaint, the urgency of the problem and other factors that help determine a call’s priority.

The computer system also uses the answers to give dispatchers medically approved instructions to relay to callers, Powell said. The instructions are given for such things as CPR, choking, delivery and childbirth, and other things, he added.


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