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COVID-19, hurricanes on E-911 radar
E-911 dispatcher My Nguyen keeps an eye on multiple computer screens while monitoring up to 30 radio channels. - photo by Rick Lott

SPRINGFIELD — Even though it never shows up at the scene of a local emergency, Effingham County E-911 usually plays an important role in it.

“A lot of times, 911 is truly the first responder,” E-911 Director Jay Spinks said. “We have the first contact with the caller.” 

In addition to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, E-911 is having to get ready for the hurricane season, which starts June 1.

The E-911 Center resides in an out-of-the-way building on Recycle Way but is always a hub of activity.

Spinks said, “You know, the 911 dispatchers, they’re sitting at their consoles. They come in, get ready for their 12-hour shifts. They sit down — on one side of them they have the radio console full of 16 channels they have to monitor on a daily basis for 12 hours and in a major event, a major crisis such as a hurricane, automatically those 16 channels go to 30 channels they have to start monitoring.”

There is a staff of 16, with four to a shift, working. They work two days and then are off two days. The 12-hour shifts are based on those that law enforcement personnel usually work. 

Spinks said E-911 received almost 70,000 calls in 2018. In 2019, the call total ballooned to 82,600, including 79,237 for service.

That’s for a county with about 60,000 residents.

While most of the calls that dispatchers deal with are crisis situations, sometimes they get an opportunity to be part of someone’s good times. 

In 2019, Andrea McIntosh took a call from a frantic mother whose small child had stopped breathing. McIntosh quickly started child CPR protocol. 

By the time the Rincon responders and Effingham County EMS got to the scene, the baby was breathing again. 

The Rincon City Council and the Effingham County Board of Commissioners honored McIntosh’s heroic act at one of their meetings.

Currently, the E-911 center is fully staffed. All of its dispatchers are certified (Emergency Medical Dispatch). 

E-911 in Effingham County was implemented in 1993 in the sheriff’s office. As the county started to grow and calls for service increased substantially, it was decided to build the current building. Dispatchers started using it in June 2009.

Last year, the county replaced its CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system and installed a new telephone system. This was a one-time cost of just over $300,000, giving it one system shared by E-911 and the sheriff’s office.

When cell phones were first becoming popular back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a dispatcher could only tell the phone number of a caller or, at the most, the cell tower the caller was nearest to. Now dispatchers can tell a caller’s location within just a few feet, which is vital in cases involving children or incapacitated people.

“Aiding in this capability is “Rapid SOS,” a free service to 911 agencies. It links life-saving date from 250 million-plus connected devices to E-911 and first responders. 

The next thing on the horizon is the addition of texting to E-911. Spinks says they are already equipped for it and are just waiting for the local service providers to be ready to go. 

Hopefully, it will come to fruition in 6-8 months. Spinks said that Verizon is in the process of looking at adding more tower sites in the county for better coverage.

Another new innovation that will be coming is the introduction of videoing to E-911. If someone is onsite and video recording an incident, they’ll be able to send it to the dispatchers, giving them an even better idea of what’s happening and where. 

Spinks said, “The reality of 911 is starting to catch up with the Hollywood version of 911.” 

This is also something that will take some time to come to Effingham County.