HONOLULU (KHON2) — Dispatchers are the first to respond to an emergency the moment someone dials 911.
In 2022, there were nearly one million emergency calls made to dispatchers on Oahu alone.
And as part of National Public Safety Communications week, dispatchers have some helpful tips if you ever need to make an emergency call.
Honolulu Ocean Safety dispatcher Buck Giles took a call this winter at a popular non-guarded beach on the north shore.
The man said the woman almost slammed on the rocks and was getting pounded in the shore break.
CALLER: “IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE SHE KNOWS WHAT SHE’S DOING.”
DISPATCHER: “HOLD ON SIR I’M GOING TO SEND OUR GUYS, AND I’M GOING TO ASK YOU A FEW MORE QUESTIONS”
MAN: “ASK ME MORE QUESTIONS? SHE’LL BE DEAD BY THE TIME.”
*29 SECONDS LATER*
CALLER: “OH HERE COMES SOMEBODY!”
DISPATCHER: “YEAH THEY’RE COMING IN ON THE ATV, DO YOU SEE THEM?
CALLER: “YEAH, THEY’RE GOOD. YEAH. YEAH. ITS OKAY.”
“A lot of times callers are calm, sometimes anxious and a lot of times they don’t realize that our units are already on the way,” said Giles.
That goes for all dispatchers who say the first thing they want to know is the location so they can start sending help in case the call is dropped.
Ross Takata at fire dispatch said “and the nature of the problem, so we know how many trucks to send, what types of trucks to send.”
“Our dispatchers are highly trained who use technology to know where we’ll be sending resources whether its triangulation from a cellphone or GPS coordinates from various software agencies, our first responders will find the person who needs help,” said Honolulu Fire Batallion Chief Shawn Kuratani.
Dispatchers said they receive many calls where people don’t know the location.
If you’re at a beach there are yellow emergency response locations at beach right-of-way that have three numbers and a letter, that all dispatchers will recognize if you call; and if you see a crash on the freeway – know the location before calling in.
“For like a vehicle fire, we’ll get 30 calls for that vehicle fire and 25 out of the 30 times, they don’t know where they are,” said Takata. “So maybe before you call 911, take two seconds to find out where you are, get a good location, find that out so we can send out our resources.”
If you’ve called 911 for police and had a busy signal they have been short-staffed and will call you back – police said they receive about 2,200 emergency and non-emergency calls daily.
If you have an iPhone14, you can utilize the SOS Emergency Satellite feature if you’re in an area that has no service to text or call for help.
Most dispatchers have experience in their field. For ocean safety, you need to work the beach for at least two years so you understand the breaks and know what resources would be needed for an emergency.
“With Ocean Safety, I cant even count the number of surf breaks that are on this island and so someone calling in and saying ‘I’m at tumble land, or I’m at Log Cabins,’ but because of the dispatchers experience, they know exactly where the person is calling from and can get them help,” explained EMS Director Dr. Jim Ireland.
He added EMS dispatchers also save lives by telling people over the phone how to stop bleeding, and provide step by step life-saving techniques in emergencies. “They’ve delivered babies on the phone, talked to family members, they do CPR instructions on the road all while simultaneously getting the right resources to the call, so I can’t say enough about them.”