When Is It Appropriate To Call 911?

(Courtesy of Evansville City / Vanderburgh County Joint Department of Central Dispatch.)

Lori Leslie and Kevin Bayer of Central Dispatch answer some important questions about how and why 911 works for you. For more information, visit their portion of the city Web site, by clicking here.

Q: When should I call 911?

A: Some reasons for calling 911 include:

1. When a crime is in progress.
2. When you or someone else is in danger or you feel you are in danger.
3. When you need a fire truck, law enforcement officer or an ambulance is needed.
4. Basically, if you think you need 911, don't hesitate to call.

NOTE: Be sure to answer all the questions the dispatcher asks. Try to stay calm and do not scream at the dispatcher. Remain on the line so the dispatcher can confirm where and what type of help is needed. If you are calling for a crime in progress, stay on the line with the dispatcher. The timely information you provide will be passed on to the responding agencies. However, do not place yourself in any danger to stay on the line. If you need to go, do so.

Q: When should I not call 911?

A: Reasons not to call 911 include:

When your power goes out.
If you want to find out if someone was arrested or why.
If you need to know the time.
If you are looking for general information or a telephone number.

NOTE: When in doubt, go ahead and call 911. The dispatcher answering the phone can advise you if you need to call another department or if they can send help. Try to keep a pen and paper handy in case the dispatcher gives you another number to call.

Q: What if I accidentally dial 911?

A: Stay on the line and let the dispatcher know it was a mistake. It does not present a problem as long as dispatch knows it was a mistake. If you accidentally call 911 and hang-up, we will start an officer or deputy towards your address until we can make contact and confirm there is no

Q: Why do you ask all those questions?

A: 911 operators are trained to ask particular questions according to the nature of the incoming call. The more information we get from you, the better prepared the police officers and firefighters will be to deal with the problem when they arrive. These questions will not delay the emergency personnel from being sent to your location. While the operator is asking the caller questions, there is another dispatcher in the same room sending the appropriate emergency response for incoming emergency calls. When you call, stay on the line and calmly answer the questions asked of you, unless doing so will place you in danger. Please do not scream "Just send them." That will not speed their response and may, in fact, slow the response down while the public safety personnel are trying to determine exactly who or what is needed.

Q: What happens when I call 911 because I need medical assistance?

A: Your call is transferred to AMR (American Medical Response), the company that contracts with Evansville and Vanderburgh County for emergency ambulance service. They assess your situation and dispatch the ambulance (usually at the same time). Central Dispatch will, if possible, stay on the line in case the fire department or the police department also needs to respond.

Q: Why does the Fire Department sometimes come when I call for an ambulance?

A: Sometimes the Fire Department can get there quicker than an ambulance. Firefighters are trained as first responders and can assist a patient needing CPR or other basic emergency care while the ambulance is still en route.

Q: Can people with hearing or speech impediments call 911?

A: Individuals with hearing or speech impediments can call 911 using a TDD.

Q: Can I call 911 from my cell phone?

A: Yes. All cell phones are capable of calling 911.

NOTE: Be sure to read your manual and learn how to lock your keypad. Many cell phones will automatically call 911 if a button is held down for more than a few seconds. This can happen if the phone is in your pocket or purse. Locking your keypad can prevent many unnecessary false calls to 911.

Q: If I call 911 on my cell phone, will you know where I'm calling from?

A: As of this writing, only if you tell us. More specifically, at this time the technology for locating a cellular phone calling 911 is not completely in place in the Evansville area. That will change soon. For now: If you call 911 from your cell, be sure to stay on the line and tell the dispatcher where you are or where the help is needed. Be prepared to give your exact location, or a nearby address, intersection, highway mile-marker, or a nearby business name. In the near future, cellular telephone companies will have the technology in-place to locate a cell-phone to within a few yards. Central Dispatch is able to translate that information into a nearby street address to assist us in finding you.

Q: Are 911 calls dispatched on a first come/first served basis?

A: No. 911 calls are prioritized and the most serious are dispatched first. For instance, a motor vehicle accident with injuries or a fight in progress will be dispatched to police, before a theft report or break-in report. The Evansville Police Department and the Vanderburgh County Sheriffs Office developed the prioritization system.

Q: What agencies/departments are dispatched from Central Dispatch?

A: We dispatch for the Evansville Police Department, the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office, the Evansville Fire Department, and the five volunteer fire departments in Vanderburgh County (Knight Township, German Township, McCutchanville, Perry Township, and Scott Township).

NOTE: We also handle communications with other city, county and state departments including, but not limited to: City Garage, County Garage, State Highway Department, Animal Control, Airport Safety and Security, DNR officers, State Excise officers, Indiana State Police, and on occasion, the FBI and the Secret Service.

Q: Does Central Dispatch activate the Weather Sirens?

A: Yes. While the Vanderburgh County Emergency Management Agency is ultimately responsible for the sirens, Central Dispatch is responsible for activating them during Weather Warnings (not watches), and testing them every Friday at noon, weather permitting.

NOTE: When we receive a weather warning from the National Weather Service, we set off all the sirens for three minutes, ten minutes later we set them off again for another three minutes. The sirens let people know there is imminent severe weather, or other emergency of some type, and to tune to the appropriate radio or TV station for more information.

Q: How do you know when to activate the weather sirens?

A: Central Dispatch keeps track of severe weather situations by monitoring television, NOAA radio, NLETS (the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System) and the Internet. When we receive a Severe Thunderstorm Warning or a Tornado Warning, that is when we activate the
weather sirens. We do not activate them for a Weather Watch.

Q: Approximately how many 911 calls does Central Dispatch receive each day/month/year?

A: We had a total of 409,183 calls in our system for 2003. Of those, we dispatched 201,045 runs to police, fire and ambulance services. In 2002, we had a total of 370,273 calls and dispatched 205,499 of those to emergency services. For comparison: in 1997 we received 252,522 telephone calls and dispatched a total of 175,435 units for emergency services. As one can readily see, the increase in numbers of calls and services rendered is growing at a phenomenal rate.

Q: How many people are employed at Central Dispatch?

A: There are currently 31 dispatchers responsible for the above mentioned statistics. As a normal rule, there are at least six telecommunicators and at least one supervisor working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. One is assigned to dispatch the city police, one to dispatch the various fire departments, one to dispatch the sheriff's department, one is assigned as the IDACS/NCIC information operator, and two are assigned to answer telephone calls and assist the other dispatchers. Dispatchers and supervisors work a scheduled four days on and two days off, which gives them a weekend off every six weeks. The dispatchers are supported by seven Communications Supervisors and a technician.

Q: How do I get a job at Central Dispatch?

A: All applications must be placed in the City Personnel Office.

(Updated: 08/01/2005)