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Emergency dispatch meets needs of growing county

POSTED: March 15, 2014 12:00 a.m.

When Jeff Copeland first began working for Hall County as an emergency communications operator, he said fewer than 100,000 calls in a year was the norm.

“It used to be we answered the phone three at a time, and took barely 70,000 calls,” he recalled.

In 2013, call takers and dispatchers on teams of 12 handled about 394,000 calls, more than 140,000 for emergencies.

Copeland is now Operations Manager for Hall County Central Communications. He proudly said that of the emergency calls, about 94 percent were answered in 15 seconds or less.

After the initial pickup, which starts with “Hall County 911, what is the address of your emergency?” the call taker determines if and where to forward the call. The dispatcher who takes over coordinates police, fire and emergency medical services.

On average for that process, Copeland said, it takes two minutes for the calls to be communicated to the needed agencies, less than the five-minute national average.

Mobile phone locations are sometimes determined by the closest cellphone tower, which can lead to incorrect jurisdictions being notified. For quick resolution, Copeland said, communications officers use a “one-button transfer.”

“They stay on the line with the caller until the other agency has answered and has the location,” he said.

Copeland said peak call times tend to be morning and afternoon rush hours, and weather events like February’s snowstorm contribute to call volume as well.

“This last weather event, we were a little busy,” he said. “But the news was telling people to stay off the roads, which they did.”

Each call station has four or five computer monitors to process and keep track of various lines of information, including the phone, radio and maps with information showing key data like the agency of jurisdiction or location of fire hydrants. The GPS is updated every two weeks, Copeland said.

Copeland said the move to the Crescent Drive Emergency Services Complex in 2005 was an update in facilities and technology, acquiring what he calls simply “our new stuff,” he said with a laugh.

While some aspects of the job are more technical today, others have evolved to be more simple. Dispatch, for example, uses fewer numerical codes than before, using plain-speak terms instead, Copeland said.

“We still use a few, but not many other than ‘10-3’ for end of transmission,” he said.

The stations are divided into clusters by call takers and dispatch, which are specified for fire and law enforcement calls. A supervisor’s station sits in the middle of the room.

Copeland said not much can be done on his department’s end to combat false alarm calls. Last year, 13,530 calls were triggered by false alarms for residential and commercial burglaries and fires.

Calls generated by alarms are processed secondary to a 911 punch-in; the alarm company does an initial assessment, then contacts the county.

Communications officer Leigh Jarrell, who has been a dispatcher for 22 years, said there was a simple appeal to the work, which requires an attentive and alert mind.

“You learn something new every day,” she said.


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