Emergency and non-emergency calls to the Columbia Police Department and Boone County Sheriff's Department reached an all-time high in 2012.
According to a news release from Public Safety Joint Communications, phone interactions last year reached more than 345,000. Of those, 76,000 were for 911 emergency and non-emergency issues.
“While our 911 telecommunicators are busy with emergency calls, they handle a larger workload every day," PSJC Operations Manager Brian Maydwell said in the news release. "When you look at the daily workload of calls taken and transactions handled, you understand the challenges our telecommunicators face every day.”
PSJC receives an average of 943 calls daily for emergency and non-emergency situations. PSJC spokesman Scott Smith said the number of phone exchanges from telecommunicators has been on an upward trend.
“The amount of phone interactions we receive has been going up steadily for the past five years," Smith said. "Last year we saw around 73,000 (emergency) calls and this year it is a little over 76,000."
Smith said that the rise in telecommunications traffic wasn’t a matter of higher crime rates or 911 calls.
“It’s hard to say why there’s been an increase," Smith said. "It isn’t necessarily a matter of more actual 911 emergencies due to crime. We get calls for everything from traffic accidents, fires, misdialed 911 calls and many other situations. There’s a wide variety of incidences that get called in.”
Smith said it was difficult to say exactly how many emergency calls came from MU, but said he knows it is a large portion of the total calls they receive.
The release stated that calls from cell phones for 911 emergencies increased. About 75 percent of the total calls received in 2012 were from wireless devices. This creates a challenge for the telecommunicators handling the calls because wireless calls require extra time to process and get delivered to the appropriate emergency responders.
Smith said when an emergency gets called in, telecommunicators and dispatchers have a process called “pinging” the location of the call. Once a location has been found, the call has been “pinged” and the emergency responders know where to go.
“On a normal landline, it is easier to find the location because of the ping signal it gives out." Smith said. "Cell phones are harder to ping, and depending on the carrier, a cell phone will take more time because we're tracking the signal from one cell tower to another until we ping the location. Thankfully, technology has improved a lot over the last five years, and it is getting easier to ping calls from cell phones."
The issue of having non-emergency situations called into the 911 emergency numbers continues to be a problem for telecommunicators in Columbia and Boone County. PSJC is currently doing everything in its power to inform residents of the non-emergency number.
“We’re trying everything possible to get the non-emergency number out." Smith said. "We put it on our website, on every (news) release, and we’ve pretty much done everything we can. An emergency 911 call should be about a life-threatening situation such as a burglary, fire and similar occurrences. When something else happens, such as a stolen car or bike, it is better to call the non-emergency number, 573-442-6131, and we will dispatch someone to you.”