Cell phone use may be a convenient tool for the public to communicate, but the technology jolts 911 with a lack of information and could cause a delay in emergency response, according to the directors of both Surry and Wilkes 911 dispatch centers.
“Cell phones often cause a delay in sending help because the call is routed to the wrong 911 center,” said Ricky Minton, communications director for the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office.
“You never know what you’re going to get when calls come in by cell phone,” said Jonathan Blesdsoe, director of Surry County 911.
Minton said that cell phone calls often require an extra step for operators who have to spend more time deciphering information.
Questions surfaced on the cell phone topic after a good Samaritan (a minor whose name is being withheld) used her cell phone to call in a fire engulfing State Road Salvage, but was placed on hold during the call.
According to Minton, the cell call arrived at 12:50 p.m. The call lasted 1:54 seconds. The caller was placed on hold for 25 seconds.
Minton indicated that the 911 specialist was attempting to reach Surry County 911, but during that time, a second caller (handled by another emergency operator) was transferred to Surry.
Meanwhile, Surry County 911 received a call on the matter at the same time via land line from a State Road Salvage employee.
“The call lasted for 45 seconds to complete,” said Stephanie Conner, assistant director for Surry County 911.
When asked if Wilkes 911 operators would be familiar with streets and locations of situations in another county, Minton said that it’s not necessarily the case.
“No, not usually. If a dispatcher was from another area, they might know some of the streets,” said Minton.
“Every call is a little different. On this call, it sounded like the caller was put on hold while the dispatcher spoke to another dispatcher that was taking a call from another caller about this fire. Then the second caller was transferred to Surry and the first caller was advised it had already been reported to Surry.”
According to Minton, a land line would immediately put the caller into the hands of the proper 911 center.
“My opinion, personally, cell phones are the worst good thing ever invented. But it is the way everyone is going, and in 2013 around 65 percent of our 911 calls were from a cell phone,” said Minton.
“There are also times the location shown from cell phone is not accurate. This could make for a bad outcome if you had to dial and lay the phone down because someone was breaking in, or you were choking, etc.” said Minton.
Bledsoe is not a fan of cell phones either.
“With GPS in the phones, Phase One (under the enhanced 911 system) gives us the number to the tower only. We do not get to tell where the phone is at precisely. Phase two allows us to have the number to the tower, the carrier, and cell location. Depending on if they’re in a metal building, we can get pretty close,” said Bledsoe. “We have to perform a manual rebid process that takes a few attempts, or sometimes it doesn’t get picked up at all.
“We took several calls from people on the fire, one female. We did not speak with a Wilkes 911 operator. We may have had a blind transfer call,” said Bledsoe. “Our policy (in Surry County 911) is never to blind transfer any emergency call. If we have to transfer an emergency to another county, they’re going to know it’s from us.”
Bledsoe also said that Surry 911 is plagued by hang up calls placed from cell phones.
“We get a ton of hang ups from people who have their phone in their back pocket,” said Bledsoe.
Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 336-835-1513 or follow on Twitter @NewsGonz.