2018-02-25 / Insight

How emergency calls end up at Lapeer County Central Dispatch

BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com


Two of the dispatch consoles at Lapeer County Central Dispatch. The center receives about 300 calls daily. 
Photos by Andrew Dietderich Two of the dispatch consoles at Lapeer County Central Dispatch. The center receives about 300 calls daily. Photos by Andrew Dietderich LAPEER — The line between dialing 911 and having emergency first responders show up seems short, direct, and a bit, well, magical.

The reality, however, is that there is no magic.

Instead, it’s an extremely concise set of actions, carried out by those set to spring into action at any given moment, using advanced technology, and all set in motion from the second those three numbers are dialed in the name of saving lives.

Well, OK, people don’t necessarily always use 911 in life-threatening situations.

“Don’t call us about the power, OK? We’re not Detroit Edison,” said Jeff Satkowski, system administrator, Lapeer Central Dispatch, in listing reasons people shouldn’t call 911. “Or ‘When’s trick-ortreating in Imlay City?’ Or ‘When’s the fireworks in Columbiaville going to be?’ I don’t know.


Satkowski shows one of the flipbooks used by dispatchers to quickly help callers who might be dealing with specific emergency situations. Satkowski shows one of the flipbooks used by dispatchers to quickly help callers who might be dealing with specific emergency situations. “And when I say ‘don’t call 911’ I mean don’t call our nonemergency number either because all you’re doing is tying up our dispatchers and our lines when somebody else might be calling having that heart attack,” Satkowski said.

Lapeer County Central Dispatch handles about 300 calls a day.

Last year, a total of about 74,000 calls came through the center.

On the verge of getting faster phone lines and other new hardware and software (previously reported), Satkowski provided The County Press with an inside look at Lapeer Central Dispatch. The purpose was to simply help people understand what happens when someone calls 911.


Jeff Satkowski, system administrator, Lapeer County Central Dispatch, points to the screen where information provided by Smart911 appears for dispatchers. Satkowski used his own information as example. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich Jeff Satkowski, system administrator, Lapeer County Central Dispatch, points to the screen where information provided by Smart911 appears for dispatchers. Satkowski used his own information as example. Photo by Andrew Dietderich According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), the history of 911 dates to 1957, when the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended use of a single number for reporting fires.

About a decade later, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended a “single number should be established” nationwide for reporting emergency situations.

In 1968, AT&T announced it would establish 911 as the emergency code throughout the U.S. The plan was developed with the FCC.

“The code 911 was chosen because it best fit the needs of all parties involved,” the NENA website states.

“First, and most important, it met public requirements because it is brief, easily remembered, and can be dialed quickly. Second, because it is a unique number, never having been authorized as an office code, area code, or service code, it best met the long range numbering plans and switching configurations of the telephone industry.”

Congress passed legislation, and the first 911 call was made Feb. 16, 1968, by Sen. Rankin Fite in Haleyville, Alabama.

Building out the infrastructure to support such a system took time. In 1987, by example, only half of the U.S. population had access to 911 emergency service.

That was 10 years before the current location of Lapeer County Central Dispatch was built. The first 911 call in Lapeer County was made at 2:14 p.m. on Dec. 5, 1997, for a minor traffic crash at M-24 south of Newark Road in Lapeer Township.

Today, Lapeer County Central Dispatch serves as the only public safety answering point (PSAP) in the county. That means it’s where all 911 calls made within the county go - for 15 fire departments, 8 police departments, and two emergency medical services (EMS) organizations.

It’s all done at 2332 W. Genesee St. in the city of Lapeer (behind the Lapeer Police Dept., east of Lapeer Animal Control, and directly underneath a large tower).

But how do calls end up there and what happens when they do?

If calling from a landline (or a Voice Over IP), a system called “Enhanced 911” or “E911” is used.

Essentially, a call is split into a kind of “Y” with one line dedicated to obtaining data about the call and the other part of the “Y” used to handle the voice part of the call.

The line essentially routes through AT&T data centers in Detroit or Southfield.

That’s where information about who is calling and from where is “married” to the call. The information is based on billing information with the phone company.

It doesn’t matter if the caller signed up for any kind of “do not call” list previously, Satkowski said. One can’t “block” 911 from having basic information first responders need when headed to a scene.

Satkowski said that part of the process (managed by AT&T) still uses technology dating to the 1960s.

“But it works,” he said. “It’s solid. Never failed, at least for us.”

The “voice” part of a 911 call in Lapeer County is routed through centers in either Bay City or Rochester. Most of the county is routed through Bay City, Satkowski said, with a small sliver in the southeast part of the county around Almont going through Rochester.

If the call is made from a mobile device, basic caller information is provided via “Wireless E911 Phase II.”

In that system, information comes from the service provider (Sprint, Verizon, etc.) associated with the caller’s phone number. (About 80 percent of 911 calls made in Lapeer County in 2017 were via mobile devices.)

“Every carrier is mandated to have that,” Satkowski said.

Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology is used to pinpoint the source of the mobile call. Satkowski said the accuracy is generally 100 meters or less.

Whether using landline or mobile, calls end up at the Lapeer County Central Dispatch building, where dispatchers can handle up to eight 911 calls at one time.

It sounds like a lot to happen, especially when dealing with an emergency.

However, Satkowski said, all of that generally happens in four seconds or less before a 911 call is routed to one of the dispatchers seated in front of a wall of eight different monitors.

The monitors contain the information that has been quickly compiled, though dispatchers always will ask for the same information to verify accuracy, Satkowski said.

If someone has signed up for the new Smart911 system it, too, will pop up on one of the screens.

Smart911 is a service that allows people to voluntarily sign up to enter information that they think could be pertinent in an emergency. For example, allergies to medications, other medical conditions, or even if there is a pet or pets at the location.

Satkowski said it’s important to note all of that personal information is stored with a third-party provider. The information appears only on a dispatcher’s screen when 911 is called. The information cannot be access by anyone locally at any other time. Further, the information provided to the private company is not subject to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. (Sign up is available at www.smart911.com)

The benefit of users signing up is simply to further improve efficiencies when 911 is called, he said, and help dispatchers relay enough information.

In Lapeer County, there are generally three dispatchers working at any given moment. They work in 12-hour shifts with overlapping schedules. They take brief bathroom breaks (as long as someone can cover them) and eat at their desks.

Satkowski said the length of each call is determined by what’s happening on the other end of the line.

“Every time a caller calls in we’re trying to give them as much attention as we can, get as much information as we can so the dispatcher can get it into the computer, and get the right (responders) going,” Satkowski said. “Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of being on the phone for a half hour talking about your life story. We just need to know what the problem is right now and what you need so we can get that going because the other phone calls are still coming in.”

Dispatchers use a standard flip book that helps them handle every different kind of call in a simple, concise, and clear manner. For example, if a person is performing CPR on another, that may require more assistant from the 911 operator.

Concurrently, another dispatcher has begun the process of “toning” out, or paging, first responders. Whom is called to any given scene is based on the information provided by the caller during the brief initial contact.

At this point in the process, some members of the public may begin to become aware of what’s happening by listening in on “police scanners.” Still others might become aware via social media sites whereby operators pick and choose some details of some calls to transcribe (at the page operator’s lone discretion).

However, they only hear communication between dispatcher and first responders — not actual phone calls.

Satkowski said that part of the process is essentially the end of calls that typically last around a handful of minutes.

“I feel great about where we’re at,” Satkowski said about Lapeer County Central Dispatch. “We’re in a great position. We have any extraordinary team of dispatchers here…very cohesive and work well together. Everybody’s been here a number of years, at least…it’s almost to the point where they know what their partner is thinking.”

Quick facts

s Lapeer County
Central Dispatch
handles about
300 calls a day.
s
Last year, a total
of about 74,000
calls came
through the
center.

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