by Don Mercier
If you are like me, the phrase Emergency 911 brings back memories of William Shatner and his melodramatic style on the television show Star Trek. By definition, an emergency is an urgent need for assistance or relief or “immediate action to prevent the loss of life, serious bodily injury, or loss of property.” The 911 system was designed to be easy enough for a child to use and to work anywhere there is phone service in the US, as well as in many other countries.
In the past few months, I have watched the County’s 911 system in action, and it concerns me each time people call 911 for non-emergency reasons. I believe they are misunderstanding the system. I think many people believe that calling 911 adds priority to their call. The reality is they will get the same person, in the same dispatch center, providing the exact same service, but they wil be occupying one of only two 911 phone lines in the Dispatch Center.
While this may not sound like a problem, and generally it isn’t, consider this. Often people in an emergency situation have one chance and a limited amount of time to request help. If the two 911 lines are being tied up with a call reporting a stray dog and another complaining that someone is parked in the wrong place, the person from Kansas who was just run off the embankment on La Veta pass and is about to lose consciousness, will not get the needed life saving help. The other call could be from a 4 year-old who is at home when the house catches fire and whose parents are overcome with smoke.
What I am trying to convey is when you call 911 for a non-emergency, you may be preventing someone else from getting life saving help. Instead, call the non-emergency number, 719-738-1044.
As a side note, if you call 911 from your cell phone while travelling, do not assume your call has been answered by local emergency services or that your location is known. We have answered calls from Wyoming and other states, and some of our mobile 911 calls have been answered by Oklahoma. Where the call will be answered depends on which cell tower relays the call. Also, even if you connect to the correct center, the second problem is that while most cell phones are equipped with Global Positioning Satellite technology (GPS), many phones have this turned off. In addition, not all 911 systems can use the GPS information if it is sent. Huerfano County’s 911 system was installed in 1998, well before GPS technology was used.
The other feature many in the community believe we have, even though we do not, is the capability for “Reverse 911.” This feature allows for the automatic calling of all the phones in its database within a matter of minutes. A person would need nearly 67 hours to accomplish this task. Reverse 911 would have been useful during our recent gas line break. Those affected could have had notification and updates sent easily and quickly.
Unfortunately, due to current budget constraints, funds do not exist to rectify either of the above issues. I am hopeful that Huerfano County citizens will look favorably on a proposed one percent sales tax increase in November that will allow for upgrades to provide the service County residents need and deserve.