By Robin DeLazerda
San Juan County Lead Dispatcher
We have received a few calls regarding the article “Island cell phones misroute 911 calls” (Dec. 28 edition). I appreciate the fact that the community is becoming educated and knowing the pros and cons of technology and the limitations of the 911 system.
Technology has greatly improved in the past several years. We have a great working relationship with Canada and surrounding counties. The days of five-to-10-minutes transfers are gone as long as callers can articulate where they are and which county they are in. Even being in a more serious situation (i.e. medical or fire), 911 is the best number to call; 911 telecommunicators are trained to handle emergency situations. If you are having a medical emergency, the operator should be able to provide assistance for that medical emergency while finding the correct public-safety answering point (911 center) that is needed. I (many years ago) took a VOIP 911 call for a first-time seizure patient and, while I was unsure where to transfer the call, I talked the caller through caring for his father while my partner and I searched the internet to find the correct number. It turns out, they were on vacation and were unaware they needed to notify the VOIP provider. Needless to say, I talked him through our medical protocols and once the patient was stable we were able to get someone else to use another phone to call 911. The moral to the story — any 911 operator can assist you.
Our main number is 378-4151; the 378-4141 line is a back-up 911 line that is a regular phone line, initiated back when cell phones did not work and technology made transferring difficult. We have been trying to minimize providing that number because it does not provide any information and 911 phones lines take priority over that line. I fully agree with the sheriff who assured 911 should be dialed for emergencies.
We recently received a call from Canada, concerned with the 911 calls they have been getting as “test” calls from San Juan County residents, testing the system to see how it will work. Calling 911 to test it takes the dispatcher away from being able to answer a true 911 call. Please do NOT call 911 to test the service to see where you will end up.