SHERIFF'S CORNER: "911, where's your emergency?"
This is a question that we don't ever want to be asked, but unfortunately, sometimes we need to call for the police, fire department or an ambulance. This week, I sat down with Lake County Central dispatcher Kimberly Hodges to try and answer some of the questions you may have.
Q: Why do you ask “where is your emergency?” right away?
A: The most important information for us to have, whatever your emergency, is where you are at. We are all aware that phone service, especially cell phones, can be spotty at times; so knowing where to send help is vital. Even if we don't know what is going on, we will be able to still send help.
Q: Can't you just see where I'm at when I call?
A: We are not able to always see right away where you are calling from. Even with advances in phone technology, a lot of times, a call will originally show up at a cell phone tower site until we are connected long enough for your phone to transmit location information. Once that information is sent, a location will show up for us, but even that isn't an exact location of your phone.
Q: What if I can't call 911? Are there other options?
A: We do have text to 911. If you are in a situation where calling is not possible, you are with a person that makes it unsafe to call or don't have enough phone service to make a call, you can text 911 and be connected with a dispatcher here in Lake County. Occasionally, if you call 911 from a cell phone and the call doesn't go through, you may receive a text from 911 making sure that everything is OK.
Q: I need to speak with a dispatcher, but it's not really an emergency. Is there a different number I should call?
A: If you need help, but it's not an emergency, we do have a non-emergency number: 231-745-2711. This number is manned 24/7, and you are going to get the same dispatchers as you would get if calling 911.
Q: Well, if it goes to same place, why do I need to call the non-emergency number?
A: Help can be delayed for someone that needs it right away when we are answering non-emergency calls on 911. Precedence always goes to the 911 line, if it is ringing at same time as other lines, and when that 911 call is someone asking a general information question, that means help may have been delayed for someone else.
Q: I've seen on social media that you can call and order a pepperoni pizza if you are in trouble and can't talk. Is that true?
A: While that is not standard training practice, as things like Facebook would make you think, we are trained to recognize when things don't seem right on a call. We are going to ask “yes” or “no” questions in situations like that so we can get the information we need to get you help.
Q: If I'm sick/hurt why do I get transferred to another dispatcher?
A: When you call 911 and report a need for a medical response we gather the information needed to get the help to you, and then transfer the call to Life EMS dispatch. The dispatchers at Life are trained in emergency medical dispatch and are able to provide caller with directions to give treatment to the patient prior to arrival from EMS. There is no delay in the time it takes for help to get to you, as by the time we transfer the call we already have the ambulance on the way.
Q: I noticed I accidentally called 911, so I quickly hung up my phone before it went through. I'm not having an emergency so I didn't want to be a bother. Is that okay?
A: When you dial 911 or your phone goes into emergency mode accidentally, the call is automatically going to go through to 911 – even if you don't hear it ring on your end. We want to make sure that everyone is safe whenever we receive a 911 call so we call back all off these disconnected calls right away. If you just stay on the line versus hanging up when this happens we can verify that all is well before you have police, fire departments, and ambulances showing up at your door.
Q: I see a lot of cars at the sheriff's office, why does it take so long for an officer to get to me?
A: Most of the time, the cars you see at the office are those of off-duty officers. For the most part, our officers that are on-duty are not sitting at the department, and are out patroling or interacting with the community.
Q: I'm going to be out on the miles of ORV/snowmobile trails in the county. Is there anything I should know for if I have an emergency?
A: The trail systems in Lake County are all well marked with trail markers. When you are out enjoying the trails, pay attention when you cross roads/trails to the trail marker you are closest to. Also, if you are on a side-by-side trail, where one is narrow and one is wide, be sure to let the dispatcher know which one you are on. Knowing these two pieces of information are the best way to make sure we are able to get help to you as quickly as possible.
Here are some other tips to help you in a situation:
• Be sure to have your numerical address (123 Main St.) highly visible at the road. Any first responder should be able to clearly see your address and not have to question whether they are at the right location. As a first responder, one out of five times responding to a call, I have spent wasted time trying to locate a residence because it was not properly marked.
• If you have a funny way to get to your residence, make sure you tell the dispatcher this. Personally, my physical address is on 3 Mile, but you can only access my property from Queens Highway.
• You know where you live, but do your guests know? I have also seen this where someone asked someone to call 911, but they had no idea the address or where they were at. Generally, telling the dispatcher "Bob's house," will probably not be enough information. I always recommend that you put up information in your kitchen that tells the address as well as any other pertinent information.
• Most importantly, don't be afraid to call for assistance. I have had community members say "It didn't look right, but I didn't want to call. What if there was no issue?" I always say it is better to call, and there be no issue, then there to be an issue and nobody calls.
This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.
If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to email@example.com.
As always, it is a honor serving and working for all of you who live, visit and work in Lake County. Working together, we can make a difference.