ELKHART — As more people disconnect their landlines, how dispatchers handle 911 calls coming from cell phones has become a growing concern for Tom Shoff, head of Elkhart’s Board of Public Safety.
The Elkhart County 911 Center receives all emergency calls dialed in using cell phones no matter where the caller is located in the county. However, Shoff pointed out that the county does not dispatch Elkhart police, so cell phone calls within city limits have to be transferred to the Elkhart Communications Center.
“I am friends with both directors of both 911 centers, and it’s not that I think that they’re not capable of handling the calls,” Shoff explained. “It’s the speed that concerns me.”
Egbert Dijkstra, director of the county’s 911 center, estimated that the county has been answering emergency calls from cell phones for more than 10 years. The county began receiving 911 calls coming from Nappanee in December to comply with a state law that limits the number of dispatch centers counties can have.
The time elapsed between transferring calls is very short, Dijkstra said.
“The very second we determine that a call is originating in the city of Elkhart, we transfer it to the city of Elkhart,” he said.
Elkhart mayor Dick Moore believes that “any delay in dispatching emergency services is too much of a delay” but said that the city does not have any current plans to take on the 911 calls coming from cell phones in city limits. In the meantime, Moore said the city has been working with Elkhart County and its 911 center to improve how quickly calls can be transferred.
Any change in how 911 calls are handled would have to be made by the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners with cooperation from the city of Elkhart, Dijkstra noted.
Mary Olson, an at-large member of the Elkhart City Council, said an ongoing dialogue between county and city officials about improving public safety and emergency services is vital.
“It is important that we secure the best response time that we can for city residents,” she said. “That’s the end goal.”