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New tool to aid 911 center
Auto attendant will be used to help in non-emergencies

Friday, April 19, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville-Henry County 911 Communications Center is implementing a new tool for nonemergency calls, according to J.R. Powell, director.

The agency will install an auto attendant for nonemergency phone lines later this month, Powell said.

When the auto attendant system is operating, nonemergency callers can choose between several options to get help, whether they need law enforcement or utilities and court information, Powell said.

The new system also has an English and Spanish option, he said.

“We are hoping this auto attendant will help with getting the nonemergency caller to the right department” and free up dispatchers to handle emergencies, Powell said.

He noted that callers also will have the option of staying on the line to talk to a dispatcher.

The change will not affect emergency calls to 911, aside from helping to ensure dispatchers are able to answer emergencies, he said.

As it stands now, Powell said dispatchers field calls on nearly everything. That can include reports of power failures, water flow concerns, medical emergencies or crimes.

“Even though the citizen is trying to do the right thing by calling the nonemergency number, they are still getting an emergency dispatcher,” Powell said.

With the “extremely high call volume we have,” that often takes dispatchers away from answering true emergency calls, he added.

In the past, dispatchers have helped those nonemergency callers by providing the caller with the number to the agency they need to call and report the issue, whether it is Appalachian Power or Martinsville Public Works, Powell said. Currently, dispatchers are suggesting that nonemergency callers look those numbers up.

“We are hoping this auto attendant will give citizens another option” for getting nonemergency assistance, Powell said.

In conjunction with the new system, Powell said the 911 Center is encouraging residents “to think before calling” the nonemergency number to determine if another agency would be better suited to handle the call.

“All of our staff are 911 dispatchers. We don’t have just call takers, and we are dealing with extremely call volume,” Powell said.

“We are just trying to work hard on educating community on the true reasons to call 911, and that is for an immediate response” in case of a fire, health or law enforcement emergency, he said. “That is the reason you call 911.”


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