By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterApril 6, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Emergency dispatchers serve as a lifeline for people who find themselves in an emergency situation where seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
The Fort Rucker Directorate of Public Safety employs eight dispatchers, with two dedicated dispatchers at the helm at all times to be able to serve the installation and provide that line of communication when people are in need. And with the enhanced-911 system in place, the dispatchers are able to better serve the community, according to Justin Weaver, lead dispatcher and training officer.
"We're set up as an enhanced-911 system, and there is a big difference between the E-911 system and the traditional 911 system," said Weaver. "[Before] when someone called 911, it would just give us a phone number and no additional information. Now when people dial 911, when the dispatcher picks up, they receive the phone number and physical address," including building numbers for calls coming from locations on post.
For cell phone calls, the system provides latitude and longitude coordinates that can be put into the system to determine the location of the caller within about a 5-mile radius, added Weaver. The system uses information provided using triangulation from cell phone towers to try and determine the location of the caller.
This additional information can be the difference between life and death in some situations, especially in the event that a call is dropped or contact is cut off between the caller and dispatcher, said the lead dispatcher.
"[The most important thing we need to know is] is where the emergency is," he said. "In a worst-case scenario, if we lose [the call] and we cannot get back in touch, we're going to send everybody to that location. It doesn't matter if it's something very minute or something very serious," adding that it's better to err on the side of caution.
Another reason that location is such an important factor is that since the majority of calls come from cell phones, the caller's location will determine which agency the call is sent to.
Oftentimes, when a person on Fort Rucker dials 911 from a cell phone, they are connected to outside agencies in the neighboring communities, said Carol Penn, Fort Rucker emergency services dispatcher.
The reason for this is because people are connected to certain agencies depending on the cell phone tower they are closest to, so if a call is picked up from a tower close to Ozark, the call will be directed to the Ozark dispatchers, which is why letting the dispatcher know their location immediately is extremely important.
"People need to know that if they get Daleville or Ozark, they need to let them know and ask them to transfer them to us if they are on Fort Rucker," she said. "A lot of times people get confused when they get someone from one of the neighboring cities and they get transferred to us, and they don't understand why they're being transferred," but it's for their benefit.
In order to be able to get help in the quickest fashion to them, they must be transferred to the agency nearest to their location, she added.
"That's why when we answer, we answer with '911, where is your emergency," said Weaver. "It can get frustrating to some when they get transferred because to the person on the other side, we are everything.
"At that moment, it could be the worst moment of their life and because of that, it gets frustrating because now they have to wait," he added. "That wait might just be 30 seconds, but it seems like a lifetime to them -- that's why the most important thing we need is to know where they are located."
Time is one of the most important factors when handling an emergency call, especially with a medical emergency, and that's why the dispatchers are trained to help in any way they can in the minutes before emergency response personnel can arrive, and that includes providing emergency medical dispatch information, said Penn.
"When we receive a 911 call for a heart attack or child birth or any medical emergency, we can provide pre-arrival instructions to the caller to help sustain the health or life of the victim while the [emergency medical technicians] or paramedics are responding," she said. "We've helped give instructions on performing CPR, and just last week we had someone help give instruction on delivering a baby."
Since many of the emergencies can be time sensitive, it's imperative that the lines not be tied up with non-emergency calls, said Weaver, who wants to remind the public that 911 is for emergency calls only.
"[Non-emergency calls] that come into the system can tie up the lines, and we only have so many lines," he said, adding that DPS has a non-emergency number that people can contact in those instances. For non-emergency calls, people can call 255-0248.
"We want everyone to understand that we have the capability to assist in a lot of different situations," said the lead dispatcher. "We do our job, we try to get people there as quickly as we can and try to save lives."