In Our View: Help in a Hurry

Local emergency dispatch center on average answers calls before second ring

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As the modern world grows increasingly frustrated by multiple-ring telephone calls, wait-in-line access to service by telephone and ersatz courtesy from recorded robots, an encouraging trend in the opposite direction is emerging at Clark County’s emergency dispatch center.

For example, how gratified do you feel when any of your telephone calls is answered before the second ring? That might seem rare in most situations, but in local emergencies, it’s the standard. Kudos to dispatchers at Clark County’s 911 system, which is operated by Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency. As John Branton reported in Wednesday’s Columbian, CRESA’s average ring time in 2010 was 5.69 seconds, or fewer than two rings, with 90 percent of all calls answered within 20 seconds. That’s a remarkable record of response, better than the state standard of answering calls within three rings.

It’s also an impressive feat when you learn that CRESA dispatchers last year handled 279,211 calls to 911, an average of 765 per day. The local response team includes four dispatcher-supervisors and 52 dispatcher positions. (Currently there are five dispatcher vacancies. If you’re interested, visit http://www.cresa911.org.)

Not only is the heavy volume of calls impressive, but so is the service area: more than a half-million people in Clark County and parts of Cowlitz and Skamania counties. Also noteworthy are the numbers of agencies that are served: 10 police departments and 14 fire departments that provide first-responder emergency services.

Another feather in CRESA’s cap is the helpful when-in-doubt- call-us attitude. As stated on the agency’s website, “A good rule of thumb is — when life or property is threatened or at immediate risk, or if there is a good chance that a criminal can be apprehended, call 911. If you are unsure how serious an incident is, do not hesitate to call 911. Assistance will be dispatched to the most critical calls first.”

CRESA also has a tolerant and forgiving attitude toward people who make mistakes. For example, if you call 911 by mistake, there’s a prescribed strategy for remedying that mistake: “If you accidentally dial 911, do not hang up. Let the call taker know that you accidentally called.” If you don’t stay on the line and explain, police could be dispatched to see if there’s an emergency.

Another compliment: CRESA officials continually work on public awareness and education. To that end, an open house is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at the CRESA offices, 710 W. 13th St. in Vancouver. There, you’ll be able to tour the center, inspect emergency vehicles and equipment, marvel at K9 police dog demonstrations and obtain information about volunteer opportunities. Refreshments will be served, activities for children also are scheduled, and free parking will be available for this event at the Clark County parking garage on Franklin Street between Mill Plain and W. 13th Street.

Finally, it helps to know that on each call, a 911 dispatcher will ask if you have an emergency in progress. Examples include medical (cardiac arrest, choking, childbirth), armed robberies and fires. Examples of nonemergency calls include aggressive panhandling, public drunkenness or evidence of other criminal activity. “That doesn’t mean your call is not important,” the website explains, “but some calls take priority over nonemergency calls not in progress, so responding units can get there quickly.”

Members of Clark County’s emergency response team are often taken for granted, because many of us will seldom or never need them. But if and when that need arises, the importance cannot be overstated. And that’s when we can feel encouraged by CRESA’s impressive record.