Greg Jordan: 911 workers deserve recognition for helping the community
Apr. 14—It's part of both the morning and evening ritual in the newsroom. Get out the list of phone numbers and start calling the 911 centers in McDowell, Tazewell, Mercer and Buchanan Counties. Call agencies including the West Virginia State Police and the Virginia State Police, too, along with sheriff's departments.
With every call, a dispatcher answers and I ask the same question. Is there anything going on?
Dispatchers with the region's 911 centers and the law enforcement agencies are often the very first people to learn about emergencies. That's because they're the very first ones that people in trouble call. Whether it's a medical emergency, a crash or a crime, they grab their phones and call 911.
I've been in the business long enough to remember when the 911 concept was new. Before the age of the 911 center, people in trouble called their local police departments, fire departments and rescue squads directly. This was also the age before caller ID, computerized maps and other aids found in 911 centers today. Dispatchers back in the 1980s and 1990s had to use books of paper maps featuring only main routes: no home numbers or other ways to narrow down a location. The big wall maps were not much better. There was no global positioning systems (GPS) to help; and even today, those systems are not always reliable in the mountains.
Doing the police checks, as we call them in the newsroom, was one of my first jobs when I joined the Bluefield Daily Telegraph years ago. The dispatchers quickly realized I was new. They were friendly and helpful, but some couldn't resist having a little fun with me.
One night, and it was one of my first nights alone on the news desk, I was doing the police checks when I made a routine call to one of the Tazewell County agencies. I think it was the sheriff's office.
A dispatcher answered and I asked if there was anything new happening that night.
"You mean you don't know?" he asked with astonishment.
In a second, I was frantic. "What?" I asked, grabbing my pen.
"My God, we've got Russian tanks running around ... " he said, going on for a few more seconds as I realized that I was getting my leg pulled. No, we weren't invaded that night.
Our local dispatchers have always been helpful. They usually don't have all the details, but they provide important ones such as when and where something happened and which agencies are handling it. Those details are usually enough to get a story moving.
Sometimes we chat if the evening is slow. They ask about stories happening outside their areas or about the weather. Other times, they're too busy to talk and that's understandable. Like the newsroom, the pace at a 911 center can go from quiet to urgent in minutes. All it takes is one unexpected phone call.
Of course, 911 dispatchers get calls that have nothing to do with emergencies. They've gotten calls about UFOs and Bigfoot sightings or calls from people who want to know if the Hatfield-McCoy Trail is open or can't find their glasses.
We get similar calls. One night a woman called us several times. She wanted to know things like who's the chancellor of Germany or when the Civil War started. I called out the question and random people in the newsroom answered. When she called a third time, I asked her what she was doing.
Well, she was helping her son with his homework.
This week is National Telecommunicators Week, a time for recognizing the people who answer the phone and offer help whenever somebody dials 911. It's a time to remember the dispatchers who work every day, even Christmas, and all hours to make sure people can get help when they need it. Dispatchers are on duty every hour, every day and all year. Every time they answer the phone and handle an emergency, they've earned a big thank you from the public they serve.
Greg Jordan is the Senior Reporter of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at email@example.com
Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org