NC5 Investigation Leads to New 911 Policy - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: 911 Emergency

NC5 Investigation Leads to New 911 Policy

A 911 emergency -- and a NewsChannel 5 investigation -- are leading to changes at the 911 center.

That NewsChannel 5 investigation raised questions about how 911 operators handle calls.

In the past, operators had to go through a checklist of questions before dispatching an ambulance.

And, in some cases, they might not send any help until distraught callers were able to answer all their questions.

The board that oversees the 911 center imposed the policy.

It makes clear, if there's any doubt, operators need to send help first and ask questions later.

A January 2006 call to Metro's 911 center was one of the calls that prompted the new policy.

"The doctor said if I didn't get to the hospital I would have died," Ayla Harmon recalls.

In her case, for an agonizing nine minutes, the 911 operator never sent an ambulance.

Instead, she insisted that Ayla's frantic family and friends had to work through a checklist of questions first.

"When someone needs help, we ought to be sending the help, then asking questions," Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas tells NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter, Phil Williams.

Serpas heads the board that oversees the center.

Now, that board told 911 call takers that "when you are confronted with obstacles to answering questions or the caller advises what appears to be obvious problems, get the equipment on the street and update the call to the dispatcher afterwards."

It also promises that "no corrective action will be taken against any call taker" who departs from the formal checklist in such situations.

Serpas says it's just a common-sense approach to handling calls where citizens are under enormous stress.

"If in that process, someone is not breathing, if in that process someone is saying, 'Hey, I'm a medical professional on the scene and we need help right away,' or if someone is so distraught and scared that they can't answer the questions, then we ought to roll an ambulance right then."

911 Director RoxAnn Brown has defended the checklist, also known as Emergency Medical Dispatch.

It's designed to help call takers determine how quickly help is really needed.

And Serpas agrees to a point.

"It doesn't replace common sense. If people are screaming and need help, we have a duty and a responsibility to get someone there as quickly as we possibly can and then ask the questions along the way."

The policy was finally imposed upon the 911 by Serpas and the rest of the board.

It turns out, they weren't too happy to find that Ms. Brown may have ignored their orders to fix this problem long ago.

However, 911 operators will still ask questions. Those questions are important to make sure that you get the right help as quickly as possible.

But, if a person simply cannot answer, that's when the operators will go ahead and get the help on its way.

Back to NewsChannel 5 Investigates

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