Dispatchers and Calltakers
A dispatcher/calltaker is the link between the public and the public safety responders such as police officers, deputies, paramedics, and firemen.
To complete this link, a dispatcher/calltaker must be able to pass on a certain amount of information in order to coordinate responders. Due to a heavy load of requests for assistance (over 100,000 per year in Bonneville County) and the nature of emergency calls, these calls must be handled in a timely and efficient manner.
All callers are equally important, regardless of whether the request is for a responder or for information. To help determine what type of request they are dealing with, a calltaker will ask specific questions which will vary depending on what type of request is being received. For example, when a vehicle accident is being reported, information needed includes an exact location and descriptions of the vehicles involved. This information is invaluable to emergency responders to help them locate the victims quickly. It would seem frustrating for a victim to be able to see the responders on the opposite side of a large parking lot and realize that they cannot find them. When reporting a suspicious person or vehicle, a good description is a vital tool in assisting emergency responders in locating the person or vehicle quickly.
A calltaker is often responsible for performing multiple duties at the same time. When a call comes in, the caller's information is typed into a CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system. With this sytem, the dispatcher receives requests for emergency response while the calltaker is still talking with the caller. This allows help to be sent as soon as the location and type of emergency are identified by the calltaker while allowing the calltaker to remain on the phone, obtaining more detailed information or giving directions to the caller on what they should do until help arrives. Your calltaker may also be responsible for handling other phone calls, radio traffic, relaying information by voice, computer, or radio, or any combination of these.
On requests for information, a calltaker will do his/her best to direct callers to the appropriate person or agency. Emergency calls always have priority over information requests and the caller may be asked to hold while an emergency call is handled. Occasionally, there is nothing that the calltaker can do for a caller, in these cases an alternate route, if known, will be suggested to the caller.
A fully trained dispatcher/calltaker is certified through the State of Idaho after completing pre-determined areas of training. The dispatcher/calltaker must be certified to be able to use the State & National Teletype Computer System. They must also be a certified EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatcher). An EMD is trained to give telephone instructions to callers to aid the victim and control the situation until emergency responders arrive. On the State level, there are 4 levels of certification, the qualifications for these depend on the amount and type of training a dispatcher has had and years of experience. Dispatchers must re-certify on EMD and teletype every two years, this is usually done while they are performing their regular duties.
At full staff, there are 18 dispatcher/calltakers and 4 supervisors. The number of staff on duty varies with the time of day. The average number of people on duty is 4-5 when the center is at full staff.
To reach a calltaker at the Idaho Falls E911 Telecommunications Center:
When should I call 911?
Dial 911 only in emergencies where people might be
seriously hurt - like fires, crimes, injuries, or sickness. If
you don't know whether to call 911 or not, calling is the right
thing to do!
How do I call for help if I have a hearing or speech disability?
The calltaker workstations include TDD equipment, the Bonneville County TDD number for emergency and non-emergency use is 529-1110. You may also call 911.
What number should I call for non-emergencies?
Dial 529-1200 for all non-emergency calls. Although
all calls (911 and 529-1200) are routed to the same telecommunications
center, 911 calls are handled on a higher priority. Dialing 529-1200
for non-emergencies keeps the 911 lines free to handle emergencies.
Because we are a consolidated dispatch center, 529-1200 can be
used to reach the Idaho Falls Police Department, Bonneville County
Sheriff's Department, and the Idaho Falls Fire/EMS Department.
What happens when the electricity goes out?
The Bonneville County Telecommunications Center has several back-up sources of power. If the electricity goes out, all equipment is immediately switched to a battery-powered UPS. The UPS is capable of handling the load for several hours but will typically carry the load just long enough for it to be transferred to a generator. The generator is powered primarily by natural gas, but will run off of propane if natural gas is unavailable for some reason. The switch to alternate power sources is seamless as far as the computers and communications equipment is concerned, and often the calltakers and dispatchers are the last to know that the power is out!
What is Enhanced 911 (also referred to as
Enhanced 911 automatically reports both the number
and location of the caller. This information is referred to as
ANI/ALI (Automatic Number Identification/Automatic Location Identification).
ANI/ALI information is received in the telecommunications center
within 1.5 seconds from the time the call to 911 was initiated.
Prior to E911, Bonneville County had Basic 911. With Basic 911,
it would take 7-13 minutes to trace a call if the caller was
unable to provide his/her location.
How do I benefit from E911?
The benefits are obvious when you consider the number
of callers that are unable to provide a location. These callers
include young children; people who are suffering a stroke, heart
attack, or other medical emergency; people who are involved in
a physical disturbance where the phone may be jerked from the
wall; etc. When you compare the 1.5 seconds it takes to locate
the caller with E911 to the 7-13 minutes it used to take, you
can easily see how E911 saves lives.
If the dispatchers know where the 911 calls are
coming from, why do they still ask for a location?
One of the first questions you are asked when you
call 911 is "Where is your emergency?" This is an important
question for several reasons: 1) Not all calls come from the
location of the emergency. For instance, a neighbor may call
to report a prowler or fire down the road. 2)Very infrequently,
the ANI/ALI information received is in error. When this happens,
the dispatcher will report the information in error and it is
corrected in the ANI/ALI database.
What if I call 911 from a cellular phone versus
a land line?
Currently, ANI/ALI is not available from wireless
911 calls. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA),
of which both the Bonneville County Emergency Communications Systems
Manager and the Bonneville County Sheriff's Department Administrative
Lieutenant are members, is working with the FCC to make wireless
911 more compatible with the present land line systems. Effective
October 1, 1996, the FCC mandated that:
Obviously the cellular providers and the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) are going to incur
costs, most of which will be passed on to the cellular users.
However, the cellular telephone industry is currently experiencing
growth rates of approximately 50% per year which should help keep
their per-user cost down. We currently receive 911 calls from travelers
who do not know which road they're on let alone which direction
they're headed or which milepost marker they just passed. In
addition, much of Bonneville County is remote back-county enjoyed
by bikers, backpackers, skiers, hunters, fishermen, etc. As the
use of cell phones increase, so will the number of 911 calls
intiated from cell phones. Because the primary reason most cellular
users have a cellular phone is for their personal safety, we feel that most would agree that a
reasonable per-user fee (similar to the $1 per month land-line customers
currently pay) would be well worth the cost if it helped emergency personnel
save even one life. We recommend that you contact your cellular provider
for information on how and when they expect to comply with the
FCC mandate. As state legislation is required before a cost-recovery plan can be implemented, we also recommend that you contact the Bonneville County Commissioners to let them know how you feel.
What should I do if I accidentally dial 911?
The best thing to do if you accidentally dial 911
is admit to the calltaker that you made a mistake. If you hang-up,
they will call you back! And if you don't answer or the line
is busy, an officer will be dispatched to your location! Remember,
the Enhanced 911 equipment is more sophisticated than your Caller
ID, even if you hang-up quickly after just one ring, we will still
receive the ANI/ALI information.
What happens when I call 911?
911 calls are initially routed to the central phone
office on Constitution Way in Idaho Falls, from there they are
routed to the tandem phone office in Pocatello and then to the
Positron computer equipment in the basement of the 911 center
in Idaho Falls where the phone number (ANI) is captured. Once
the ANI is captured, an inquiry is made through Pocatello to Portland
Oregon where the location information (ALI) is retrieved and forwarded
back to the 911 center where the ANI/ALI information is displayed
on the calltaker's console. All of this happens within approximately
1.5 seconds! The ANI/ALI information can then be retrieved into
the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system and the location is automatically
displayed graphically on the calltaker's console. After the
nature and location of the emergency has been determined, CAD
will automatically determine the proper responding agencies and
units and notifies the dispatcher(s) (we have two, one for law
events and one for fire and ems events) who then dispatches the
proper units by radio. The calltakers and dispatchers work in
parallel, this means that a calltaker can remain on the line with
the caller while the dispatcher makes sure that help is on the
Are the calltakers qualified to instruct callers
on how to administer CPR/first aid to a patient?
All of our calltakers are EMD (Emergency Medical
Dispatch) certified. As such, they can accurately query the caller,
select an appropriate method of response, provide pertinent information
to responders, and give appropriate aid and direction for patients
through the caller. Through careful application and reference
to a written, medically approved, emergency medical dispatch protocol,
sound decisions concerning EMS (Emergency Medical Service) responses
are made in a safe, reproducible, and non-arbitrary manner. The
calltaker is very often the first responder to medical emergencies.