Polite society

Published 7:14 pm Saturday, October 6, 2012

Calling 911 seems like a simple process — pick up the phone and dial those three numbers. You’re in, yes, but now you’ve got to stay in.
When a telecommunicator picks up your 911 call in Beaufort County, first and foremost, they need information. But if it’s an emergency situation, they need that information quickly and clearly.
Here’s an explanation of what happens when you call 911: all calls from landlines in Beaufort County come in to the Beaufort County Communications Center, with the location from which the call originated digitally displayed for the telecommunicator. So, if someone is calling from an address in Washington, the telecommunicator has it. This isn’t the case when you call on a cellphone — there’s no location identified, and the telecommunicator has no idea where you are.
They have to determine a few things about your call: the nature of the emergency and whether city or county authorities need to be dispatched. Makes no sense to dispatch city into the county and vice versa.
So, if a call comes from Washington landline and the telecommunicator determines the call doesn’t require urgent response, the call is transferred to the Washington Police Department’s dispatch, and it takes it from there. If the call does require urgent response, the county telecommunicator can dispatch to Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS on its frequency and get things moving quickly.
Calling 911 on a cellphone? Sometimes things might not work out as easily. First, the telecommunicator has no location. Second, you might very well have bad reception in typical cellphone fashion. This is why it’s so important to stay on the line and answer the telecommunicator’s questions in a clear and concise way. He or she simply might not have heard you.
This was the case last week when Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson called 911 to report a woman walking down the middle of John Small Avenue. Richardson certainly did the right thing by calling the communications center to report someone who — by her actions — could be perceived as a threat to herself or drivers on the road. However, being rude and abusive to the telecommunicator who took his call was a bit excessive.
However, Richardson would likely recognize his mistake if he heard his 911 call. In fact, Richardson would probably apologize to the woman he told to “get off your butt and do your job” if he knew that only half of what he was saying could be understood. Richardson had, of course, called 911 from his cellphone and there was, of course, really bad reception.
City and county telecommunicators do a great service to the public. Yes, it’s their job, but it’s also one of the most stressful jobs around. Next time you need to call 911, remember getting as much information from you as possible means they handle an emergency situation appropriately.
It’s only polite to help the person who’s helping you.