KINGMAN - Sheriff Tom Sheahan calls them the lifeline between deputies and their communities. Those lifelines, the people manning the phones at the 911 call center, were honored last week by the Sheriff's Office as part of National Public Safety Telecommunications Week.
The 14 dispatchers who work 10-hour rotating shifts out of the Sheriff's Office call center handle an estimated 200 emergency calls a day throughout the 13,500 square-mile area of Mohave County, said Dispatch Supervisor Jody Schanaman. That's in addition to the 16,000 administrative, or non-emergency, calls that come in to 911 each month.
"Every day is different," Schanaman said. "You can't prepare for it without doing it."
Dispatchers go through 12-18 weeks of on-the-job training where they shadow a dispatcher until they feel they're ready to handle calls on their own.
"They're trained to take all of the information within two minutes, although some calls can run as long as 45 minutes," she said.
Not all of those calls warrant intervention. Dispatchers said they receive calls for everything from someone asking for the time to another woman being locked inside her own car.
The woman was freed after the dispatcher told her to manually pull the lock latch and let herself out.
"I got a call once when it was raining and a woman was driving to Laughlin (for the casinos)," one dispatcher said. "The washes were all full and she wanted to know when the road would be reopened. I told her God hadn't let me know yet."
Abuse of 911 is a prosecutable offense, Sheahan said.
When a person calls 911, that call is directed to dispatch centers at either the Sheriff's Office or the Kingman Police Department, depending on an identifier tagged on the line by the phone company that differentiates between calls from the city and the county.
A call originating from a land line will automatically display where a person is calling from; calls from cell phones are a little more difficult to trace if a person can't give their location.
Schanaman said the Sheriff's Office is working with cell phone providers to have a program in place that will eliminate that problem by the end of May.