HANCOCK COUNTY — They handle the most serious and stressful calls in the county and, according to statistics, local 911 dispatchers are doing so at one of the highest rates over the past several years.
Hancock County 911 processed over 79,000 phone calls in 2021, including 31,000 different 911 emergency calls, a new county high compared to the 26,000 they had in 2020.
Officials with the agency noted that’s a big deal because it takes a lot longer for dispatchers to process a call for service that comes in via the phone system versus an officer-initiated call.
The emergency calls include more than 10,000 fire and EMS calls, showing fire officials are busier than ever. Their department statistics also show law enforcement had 48,623 officer-initiated calls in 2021, which included everything from abandoned vehicles and car accidents to standard traffic stops.
Greg Duda, the agency’s public information officer, noted the amount of calls coming into the agency are in direct correlation to an ever-expanding county.
“It’s proving that, with all the construction additions that are going on in the county and all the growth and building, the numbers are only going to keep going up,” Duda said.
The department works hard to stay on top of the need for emergency assistance when it comes to public safety, Duda noted. They have 24 total employees, including 21 dispatch positions with 20 currently filled, and they work proactively rather than re-actively.
“You have to be prepared for anything in this business, and we can’t wait to react,” Duda said.
John Jokantas, director of communications for the 911 agency, said the 911 agency is constantly evaluating its staffing needs thanks to an open line of communication and support from the county’s commissioners and council. They’ve found they’re in excellent shape and prepared for the workload in the growing community.
“We already know about other counties like Hamilton and Johnson County that have already gone through this type of growth, so we are able to learn from what they’ve done or didn’t do in the past,” Jokantas said.
Taking in over 79,000 calls in 2021 averages out to about 213 calls per day for the agency, which turns out to be about 10 calls per hour.
“The bulk of those calls do come in during standard business hours,” Jokantas said.
Duda noted the 79,000 calls range from everything from, “When does the Riley Days parade start?” to complaints about a dog barking that were mistakenly called into 911. They also get people calling the non-emergency number saying things like their relative has chest pain.
“There is a lot of overlap and back-and-forth in the calls,” Duda said. “We have to sort those out.”
At the end of the day, officials at the agency look at the work they do each day as important, with them being the “catch-all” place where people call when they need information and help.
“Sometimes they don’t have anyone else to turn to. We do realize the people are looking for help, and that’s what we’re here to do,” Duda said.
Officials noted the amount of “accidental calls” was also up last year, adding to their intake numbers due to the fact so many people are wearing smart watches and carry smart phones that can easily dial 911.
Those are calls that can take a lot of time as dispatchers have to investigate to make sure they are not accidental calls.
“We don’t have a great way to track how much time we do spend on those types of calls,” Jokantas said. “We have to take every single one of the calls as this is an emergency.”
Regardless, the department runs smoothly due to the training and dedication of the staff, which completed 88 excellence in dispatch courses, officials said. The agency became the first in Indiana to have all of its employees collect their Excellence In Dispatch (EID) certification, and five employees also completed hostage and negotiation training.
While the EID is not required, county 911 workers took all five classes associated with getting the degree since the state picked up the tab for the classes.
“We took full advantage of that,” Jokantas said. “It saved us money on our training budget, plus it was fantastic that we could get it done.”
As a whole, the facility and equipment is in great shape, Jokantas said. However, they will replace the current 911 system in mid-2023 because it’s 10 years old and needs updating. As for the facility, the bond associated with the building at 640 S. Franklin, which opened in 2008, has been paid off.
“So some modifications will be coming,” Jokantas said. “We’re almost 15 years old. So, in order to keep up to date, we will do some repairs and office modifications.”
On the technology front, the department is pushing alone just fine, Jokantas said. County officials added the state-of-the-art Locution Systems automated fire station alerting program a couple of years ago, taking a little bit of pressure off 911 dispatchers.
“That was one of the biggest and best projects that we did,” Jokantas said. “It was money well spent.”
That type of pre-planning by the administration at the agency has helped the dispatchers adjust when taking in all kinds of calls, something they knew was coming.
Still, Jokantas noted statistics show they’re spending about 8 seconds more per call than they did with almost the same number of calls in 2019, meaning there is more information coming in from callers and more questions being asked by dispatchers.
“Multiply that 8 seconds by some 80,000, and that’s a lot of seconds,” Jokantas said. “It’s an increase in workload even if we’re taking in the same amount of calls as we did a few years ago.”
911 call in numbers past five years:
2017, calls 76,507, officer initiated, 52,295, fire/EMS 7,727
2018, calls, 75,681, officer initiated, 51,066 fire/EMS 8,668
2019, calls, 79,285, officer initiated, 53,756, fire/EMS 9,375
2020, calls, 60,301, officer initiated, 35,398, fire/EMS 8,890
2021, calls, 79,030, officer initiated, 48,623, fire/EMS 10,494
Breakdown of some fire department runs 2021:
Sick person 1241 (12%)
Breathing problems 895 (9%)
Falls 846 (8%)
Unconscious 501 (5%)
Chest pain 414 (4%)
Source: Hancock County 911 agency