From “nothing” to “explosion.”
That’s how emergency dispatcher Gage Snell described the events one recent morning in the Brownwood Police Department’s dispatch center after dispatchers finished with a call of a one-vehicle rollover accident and also monitored a situation involving a person fighting with a police officer.
“We went from nothing to explosion. You only witnessed one call,” Snell told a visitor.
The “nothing” happened with no emergency 9-1-1 calls coming in and little activity on the police radio. Gage and fellow dispatchers Jim Hicks and Rosye Holland sat at darkened consoles. Each console was home to equipment including computer monitors, radio microphones and telephones.
Communications manager Deedra Molotsky explained how dispatchers are able to learn the location of a cell phone operator who makes a 9-1-1 call. Nine-five percent of 9-1-1 calls are made with cell phones, Molotsky estimated.
Enhanced 9-1-1, which instantly provided a caller’s address and phone number, won’t work with a cell phone. But there is other technology that can narrow a caller’s location.
“Phase 1” of a cell phone call provides a callback number. The 9-1-1 operator can touch a “retransmit” button, which will enter “Phase 2” and come close to pinpointing the location of the caller. A visitor’s test 9-1-1 call showed the caller’s location as a nearby break room.
It’s never going to give the exact location but it will get pretty close, Molotsky and Snell said.
Sometimes it takes more than one try at the “retransmit” button to bring up the location.
“We’re still going to ask you where you’re at,” Snell said. “It’s another tool.”
Snell recalled a recent 9-1-1 call from a woman who said her vehicle had rolled over on U.S. Highway 377. “She just knew she was somewhere between Blanket and Early," Snell said. Snell was able to narrow her location for first responder to within two miles.
Molotsky said she has no idea how the technology — known as ALI, or Automatic Location Information — works. She just knows it does.
The “explosion” Snell described happened a few minutes later, when Hicks took the first of three 9-1-1 calls about a rollover accident at the bottom of Days Hill on Highway 279. Snell also took a 9-1-1 call that turned out to be an unintended “pocket dial.”
With what appeared to be little effort, Hicks, Snell and Holland mounted a coordinated response to the rollover accident as they dispatched first responders, handled phone calls and dispatched an officer to take an unrelated walk-in call.
Initial reports of the accident indicated entrapment, and the Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter was placed on standby.
“So the roadway is blocked? … One entrapment … got your coordinates when you’re ready … Air Evac is on standby,” Hicks said, speaking first to a 9-1-1 caller and then radioing first responders from multiple agencies.
“All of this — then we had an officer fighting a suspect,” Molotsky said.
“All in a little bitty window of time,” Snell added. “It’s what we do.”
When asked if being an emergency dispatcher is a hectic job, Snell replied, “You just ‘do.’ You have no choice. Either you can multi-task or you can’t.”
In emergency dispatch center, workload can quickly escalate
From “nothing” to “explosion.”