By LYDIA BERGLAR
When situations like the Dec. 26 snowfall and ensuing car accidents arise, Dade County’s E-911 call center jumps into action. While that evening was a particularly busy time, the call center is a tireless 24/7 effort.
Alex Case, director of Dade County’s Emergency Management Agency, emphasizes the focus on saving life. Layers of contingency plans are in place to ensure continued response should the primary center ever be down for any reason. This planning ensures that first responders and the dispatchers behind the scene are prepared to move and adjust should situations require.
Case says, “These folks are the side of our first responders that nobody sees.” While current technology helps eliminate human error, the staff are still essential to the operations. “When 911 rings, we take the call. The dispatcher decides what the call for service is.”
The responders immediately work on confirming the address so that response can be dispatched quickly. While responders are en route, the dispatcher can collect and relay further information.
The call center also watches traffic heading into Chattanooga so they can direct ambulances to quicker routes if the interstates are backed up.
Case noted that due to Dade County’s geography, EMS and law enforcement do not have back up. “We think of ourselves as the center of the compass. We can’t pull from Dekalb, Jackson, Marion, or Hamilton for ambulances or law enforcement.”
Dade does have back-up fire support from surrounding counties. “You don’t see many areas that deal with three states, five counties, and two time zones.”
Case explained, “We wear a lot of hats because we’re a small county. Daniel Jones is the IT manager, and he’s also the assistant 911 director. I help manage the budget and IT issues, and Daniel works with our engineers.”
Along with Case, Billy Massengale (director of public works) handles salting the roads. When weather alerts allow, they are able to prepare ahead of time, and they also respond in real time as they hear reports of slick roads. The evening of Dec. 26 required the full efforts of first responders and the folks behind the scenes.
“It was supposed to be flurries,” said Case, “but it came so quick. The north side of Lookout Mountain had issues, and so did Brow Road, and White Oak Gap. Hales Gap was the worst. We had about 30 cars off in the ditches. The interstate was backed up, so people were getting off on 299, and then getting on Slygo Road to get back on the interstate. They all were in ditches.”
At busy times like this, the phones ring constantly and Case and Jones stand behind the dispatchers to pick up the business line and assist with calls. Case has been working to secure funds to update the 911 call center phone system which is nearly 17 years old. He would also like to purchase a fifth line.
See the Dec. 7 and Nov. 9 editions of the Sentinel for further information about the phone system and Case’s request for funds.