Emergency calls may be bounced to several agencies

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 11, 2017

When residents of Pearl River County call 911, they may be transferred before they get to the proper agency, and in rare instances they may not get an answer.
But instances of a 911 call not being answered are few, said Pearl River County Sheriff David Allison. Even if the call is not answered because a dispatcher is fielding another call, dispatchers are supposed to call the missed number back.
Depending on the device a resident uses to call 911, that call may need to be forwarded to another department. Allison said that landline calls made within the city of Picayune automatically go to the Picayune Police Department. All other land line calls, including those made in the city limits of Poplarville, are answered by the sheriff’s department. However, if a resident is using a cellphone to call 911, regardless of where they are in Pearl River County, that call is always answered by the sheriff’s department. If the emergency is within the city of Picayune, then the sheriff’s department dispatcher forwards the call to the Picayune Police Department, and waits until that department picks up to release the line.
Allison said that all 911 calls are supposed to be answered within the first two rings. If for some reason a 911 call is not answered immediately, he suggests allowing the phone to ring longer, because the dispatchers on duty could be fielding other calls.
Only calls from landlines provide the dispatcher with an address automatically, said Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department Administrative Assistant Rebecca Rasmusson. Calls from cellphones do not provide that information, so callers are required to give their location.
If the emergency requires an ambulance, then the dispatcher forwards the call to AAA Ambulance Service and continues to monitor the call to determine if a law enforcement presence is needed, Rasmusson said. She said the ambulance company has always had it’s own dispatch system, which has been the case since she started in 1995. There are other flaws with the system. Rasmusson said that at times the sheriff’s department will receive 911 calls from someone in Hancock County or Washington Parish due to a cellphone tower in Pearl River County fielding the call, which also requires the dispatcher to forward the call to the proper department.
But, the system in place is the best that the department has at the moment, Rasmusson said. Ultimately, the best and most efficient way to dispatch emergency calls is to centralize them in one location, Rasmusson said.
Another problem law enforcement officers can face while responding to 911 calls entails finding the location of the call. Picayune Police Assistant Chief Jeremy Magri said that while officers are required to learn the location of the city’s streets, some locations are unknown to newer officers because calls rarely come from that area. And if the road or location is not clearly marked, that can also make it difficult for officers to find a location, prompting them to have to call dispatch and request additional directions.
But officers don’t have electronic maps or GPS in their patrol vehicles, unless they choose to use their personal cellphone. If for some reason calling 911 does not get a response, residents can call dispatch via alternate numbers. However, Magri said that calling dispatch via the 601-798-4711 and dialing 1, will only provide the dispatcher with the phone number; any information about the address for landlines or cell tower for cellphones will not be available. He recommends saving that avenue as a last resort.

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