Location, Location, Location

911 Dispatchers Urge: Know Your Surroundings

Posted: April 20, 2013

HARRISONBURG — People calling 911 often don’t know one of the most important details about the emergency they’re seeking help for: its location.
Officials with the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Emergency Communications Center hope to drive home the point that people should be aware of their surroundings and know where they are at all times.
To that end, ECC communicators set up a table at the Valley Mall on East Market Street to educate the public about the 911 process.
Coinciding with National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, the “Help us find you” outreach effort started at the mall on Friday and continues today during the mall’s normal operating hours, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The Emergency Communications Center, headquartered at the Public Safety Building at the corner of North Main and Elizabeth streets in Harrisonburg, dispatches police, firefighters and rescue squads to emergencies in the city and Rockingham County.
Chad Siever, an ECC shift supervisor, said it can take a few minutes to figure out exactly where someone is if they’re calling from a cellphone and aren’t sure of their location.
It happens “multiple times” in a given day, Siever said, and those can be crucial minutes.
“Minutes can often dictate life or death in an emergency situation,” he said.
Calling from a landline is a different story, as dispatchers have access to the caller’s address and which agencies are assigned to the area.
But with cellphones, communicators can only identify a general area of where the call comes from. People traveling where they’re not familiar should take note of landmarks and street names, Siever said.
A common misconception people have about calling 911 is that the dispatchers who answer the line are the people who will respond to the scene and that staying on the line delays the response time, he said.
What actually happens is another communicator will contact the appropriate first-responders while the dispatcher who answered the line talks to the caller.
Another essential thing to keep in mind when dealing with an emergency is to remain calm, Siever said, as it helps the process work more smoothly.
It’s things like this that ECC officials want people to understand for when the time comes that they need to call 911.
“One of the biggest things we’ve found,” Siever said, “we really need to educate folks about how 911 works.”
Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or jhunt@dnronline.com

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