Somewhere in Texas County, a conversation took place last night at the dinner table.
Clara has just turned 12 and has asked permission to walk home from school alone tomorrow. After much discussion and rules set in place, her parents agree. Clara was given a cell phone for her birthday and that helps the parents feel a little safer.
Today there is a hysterical mom trying to decide if she should make that call.
Inside of dispatch there are a mix of new and experienced dispatchers nearing the end of their shift answering multiple calls including three kids with cell phones making prank calls.
The phone rings into dispatch.
Dispatcher: “9-1-1, where is your emergency?”
Caller: “I can’t find her! Get here now!”
Dispatcher: “Caller, I need you to take a deep breath and slow down. Who can’t you find?”
Caller: “Just get here, I don’t know what to do!”
This caller sounded very hysterical and was not able to provide information to dispatch about who may be lost or where it is happening. The caller was on a cell phone and did not have very good service, so the call was not able to map on the system. Thankfully, there was a phone number showing. This phone number had the same prefix as the other three prank calls from earlier. Now the decision must be made: Is this another prank call or does someone really need help?
Dispatch will never leave anything to chance and just suppose it is another prank, misdial or accidental call. All calls are taken as an emergency until it determined there is not an emergency. Dispatchers quickly jump into action and try to call the phone number back. No answer.
One dispatcher keeps trying to call the number back while others simultaneously search the phone number see if it matches any previous calls. It doesn’t.
Now they must try to locate the phone number. They only way to do this is call the cell company to see if they have any information for the phone number. Calling the first cell company dispatch reveals it is not that carrier. However, the cell company was able to tell dispatch the correct carrier.
Another call rings into dispatch, and another. Three calls now have been handled with in the five minutes that it has passed since that “help, hang up” call. Dispatch is taking care of all the calls, including two ambulance calls and a call asking about directions. Even though these calls were tended to, dispatchers have not stopped working on contacting the hang up call. They have made seven attempts on calling back, with no answer. One dispatcher is now on the phone with the correct carrier trying to get a location or information for the phone number. The carrier is looking, as another call rings into dispatch. Second dispatcher answers that call, and it is the same caller. The first dispatcher can tell it’s the caller back online; however, they still get any information from the carrier just in case it is needed. The caller stays on the line with dispatch this time and here is the conversation.
Dispatcher: “9-1-1, where is your emergency?”
Caller: “I called forever ago, and you are not here yet!”
The dispatcher can tell that the caller is very upset and on the hysterical side. The dispatcher talks with the caller for just a few seconds working on getting them calmed down. They are able to make the caller understand that they must take their time and answer some questions before help can get there. Dispatch obtained the address.
Dispatcher: “Now, will you tell me exactly what happened?”
Caller: “I just got home from work; my daughter is not here! She was walking home from school today and she would only be here about 25 minutes alone before I would get here. But she is not here!”
Dispatcher: “How old is your daughter and what is her name?”
Caller: “Clara, she just turned 12. This was her first day to walk home by herself.”
This information was dispatched out to the officer soon as the address and emergency was determined. Dispatch asked many other questions and learned that Clara was not answering her cell phone. Dispatcher obtained a description of Clara including her clothes.
Dispatcher: “Was Clara going to stay after school or go anywhere else before coming home?
Caller: “No, we told her to come straight home.”
Dispatcher: “There is an officer that should be pulling into your driveway; do you see him?
Caller: “Oh! There she is!”
Phone hangs up. Dispatch confirmed that the officer was out with mom. Since he was, a call back to the caller was not made. The officer cleared the scene of the missing girl about ten minutes after arrival. It was not until two hours later, when the officer had a chance to come speak with dispatch, that what happened was revealed. Clara was late arriving home because she stopped to play some basketball with friends, she did not text or call her parents, and did not answer her cell phone because it had died while she was playing ball. Clara was walking down the sidewalk as the officer pulled in the driveway.
This was a great ending.
A few details I would like to stress to any caller:
Dispatch will not always know the location. It may take a few minutes to locate if it is not given by the caller.
Yelling and stating “just get here” will not make anyone arrive faster.
Dispatchers are trained on how to break the hysterical threshold and will talk with callers until they are calm enough to give information.
There is never enough education about misuse or prank calls to 9-1-1. Those three prank calls that were received before this emergency call? They were eventually located, and it was a group of friends ranging from age of 11 tpo14 years old. An officer spoke to them and all their guardians.
Dispatch is always happy to hear of the ending where all was OK, unfortunately for several reasons that is not always the case. Never feel like it is a bother or too soon to call for help. It does not matter the age of your child; if you feel that something is not right, make that call!
The Texas County Emergency Services office in Houston is funded by a 3/8-cent countywide sales tax approved by voters in 2013. Assistant director Terra Culley can be reached by phone at 417-967-5309 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.