911 dispatchers slammed with calls last week | SummitDaily.com
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911 dispatchers slammed with calls last week

SUMMIT COUNTY – One of every five calls 911 dispatchers took last week came from people who wanted to know why Interstate 70 was closed and when it would re-open.

It was a question dispatchers – already swamped with other weather-related and genuine emergency calls – did not welcome.

“Multiple times throughout the day, I kept hearing dispatchers say, “This is not an appropriate question for a 911 line’ and then give them the correct number to call,” said dispatch director Chris Benson.



That correct number is (970) 668-1090, a recorded road conditions and weather line the dispatch center keeps up to date.

The center’s employees were “completely maxed” during last week’s storm and subsequent 60-hour I-70 closure, she said. Most of those calls came in Thursday – as the closure went into the 36-plus hour mark.



“From Wednesday midnight to Thursday midnight, we took 1,095 calls,” Benson said. “Five-hundred-plus is normal for ski season (per day).”

About 20 percent of those were questions about the road closure.

“That’s a really inappropriate use of the system,” she said. “For every single line that’s tied up that way, it’s one less line available for someone with an emergency. Dispatchers have to prioritize, pull emergencies from all that other stuff and get them dispatched.”

It’s not a problem that is limited to last week. Dispatchers take between 40 and 70 911 calls every day, and as many as 40 percent of them are not true emergencies, Benson said.

“We’ve had people call 911 and curse the dispatcher because they cannot find the number for a barber, and they are at their wit’s end,” she said. “They call from their condos and ask, “Who is going to bring us towels?’ Other people call and ask where to fish, where to park. “

“One of the biggest burdens we have here on this agency is the reluctance of people to take that extra step,” Benson said. “The county is saturated in phone books, and that’s the purpose of 411.”

A high percentage of those non-emergency 911s come from cell-phone owners whose phones call the emergency number. That’s because many of cell phones have a one-touch emergency button. If that button is pressed, say, because a person is carrying a cell phone in a pocket and is leaning against a wall, it automatically dials 911. Other cell phones ring the dispatch center if one button is pressed continuously.

“It is perceived as a distress signal, as maybe a person who is unconscious and laying on their cell phone,” Benson said.

Children playing with phones account for another fair amount of accidental 911 calls.

The non-emergency number at Summit County dispatch is 668-8600.

Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at jreuter@summitdaily.com


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