Inside the Dane County 911 Center - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Inside the Dane County 911 Center

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Dane County's 911 Center has been at the forefront of city and county conversations in recent months, about eliminating errors and improving response.

It's a busy place 24 hours a day and 27 News wanted to get a look at the procedures dispatchers follow to take a call from the initial ring to the help a caller needs.

We followed dispatcher Kipp Smith one weekday afternoon, to learn more about how the call center works and to see what kinds of calls come in.

Smith, who's been with the 911 Center for five years, says by now he's taken all kinds of calls, from people with an emergency to others calling the non-emergency line, just looking for answers to questions.

"Typically during the day, we don't see a lot of action," Smith tells 27 News. "Parking complaints, a lot of medical calls, this time of year a lot of grass fires in the county, but as the sun goes down then more disturbances come in."

The type and number of calls depend on the time of day. Paul Logan, one of the center's operations managers, says the center's 69 communicators took 411,576 calls in 2013. That averages out to about 1,130 a day. Of those calls, about 200,000 were emergency calls.

Dispatchers like Smith have to make quick decisions to get people help in an emergency and always say calm under pressure.

"You've gotta be able to direct a caller," Smith says. "If they don't know how to help themselves you can direct them on the phone to help keep them safe."

Dispatchers take the call, get as much information as possible, then decide what type of response is necessary, calling police or fire departments when needed. The fire department has mobile computers inside each vehicle, where all the call information is displayed so they're fully aware of every situation.

"We base all of our responses on the best information we get from the callers and what the 911 center is giving us," says Madison fire's Division Chief of Medical Services Ché Stedman.

Stedman tells 27 News the department always has about 80 staff members working at any given time across Madison's fire stations. Each worker is trained in EMS, which is important because 85 percent of calls for help that involve the fire department are for medical emergencies.

No matter the emergency it's the job of police or fire to respond, even for a false alarm.

"Whatever they feel is their emergency is our emergency as well and if we get there and there's nothing wrong, that's a good thing," says Stedman, whose department deals with false alarms at least once a day.

About one of every eight 911 calls in 2013 were deemed abandoned calls. That's nearly 24,000 calls that communicators have to follow up on to find out if someone is really in trouble, or if it was a mistake. An officer is dispatched if the communicator knows the location of the call but cannot get a response when calling back.

Smith says most of those calls are pocket dials, disconnects or mistakes, but even a disconnected cell phone can still call 911. Dispatchers ask that if you accidentally call 911, stay on the line until you talk to someone so they can rule out an emergency. That'll save everybody time in the long run.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Last year, the Dane County 911 Center answered 411,576 calls, nearly 200,000 of those came in as 911 calls for help.

There's a lot that goes into every call. Dispatchers are always on duty to make sure each one is answered.

"When you call, we're required to ask where you're at and ask your name and ask your phone number regardless of the situation. If it's a question or if it's a disturbance, we're going to go through the same thing every time," says Kipp Smith, a dispatcher with Dane County for the past five years.

Dispatchers have protocols to follow to find ways to help each caller and keep in close contact with police and fire crews, always ready to respond.

"We get called out on a lot of things, from water flow alarms, to issues with pets, to then of course the more common 911 calls: medical emergencies and fire," says Madison fire's Division Chief of Medical Services, Ché Stedman.

In a special report tonight on 27 News at 10, Jennifer Kliese gives us a look at what work is like inside the Dane County 911 Center.

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