MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
“It can be stressful,” said Angela Wade, as she started to talk about her job before the phones started chirping at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune 911 Emergency Consolidated Communications Center. She turned to answer the call. After she finished, she turned back. “You have to be able to multitask.”
Wade is a 911 dispatcher. Along with 13 other dispatchers, Doug Grafton and Kay Burrows, the two supervisors, and Daren Lowe, the director, she answers phones and dispatches fire, police and emergency medical personnel to scenes of danger aboard MCB Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station New River and the other satellite facilities.
The center gets hundreds of calls daily and well over 100,000 in a year. Some of them are hang ups. Others are people trying to dial off-base numbers from a base phone, which requires users to press 99 before the actual phone number. A little more than one-third of the calls are the people who really need 911.
“Camp Lejeune 911. What’s the address of the emergency or eagle eye report?” Wade asked into her headpiece at 10:14 a.m. and eight seconds, June 20. The location was in the base’s French Creek area. Some hydraulic fluid was spilled. Wade asked the necessary questions required by law, meanwhile, Amanda Scott and Sheryl Ripley, also dispatchers, worked by her side. By 10:14 a.m. and 18 seconds, Scott and Ripley had dispatched the fire department and Provost Marshal’s Office. Six minutes later, the personnel were at the scene.
“It’s a very good system,” said Wade. “We work together as a team. Teamwork is very important here.”
Grafton said that callers often don’t understand why they are being asked a lot of questions. They just want to hear that help is on the way.
“People do strange things when they’re under stress,” he said. “They don’t understand that it’s a two-prong attack. While one person is asking them questions, another has already dispatched fire, PMO or EMS.”
The center is faced by two hurdles in their day-to-day operations, aside from the inherent stresses such as trying to tell someone over the phone how to perform CPR.
One problem faced by the center is the over-abundance of calls that do not require 911.
“Some folks utilize it more as a 411 than a 911,” said Lowe. “Basically, if it’s life limb, property or security, call 911. Other things — Is the base open today? What’s the number for the visitor center? When is my traffic court date? — I could give you a lot of examples of when not to call.”
There is a base information line, 451-1717, and a website, lejeune.usmc.mil, that can be used to find out if roads are closed or gates are open, and the base telephone operator, 451-1113, can be used to find phone numbers.
The other problem is that some people do not realize MCB Camp Lejeune has its own, fully-functional 911 call center, completed in 2007, and it features state-of-the-art computer-aided dispatch.
Lowe demonstrated the center’s capabilities by walking outside behind the center, which is located in Building 58. He dialed 911 from his cell phone. As soon as Wade answered the phone, a black triangular arrow appeared on a map on one of her five screens pinpointing his location. He hung up and called again. The screen showed him in the parking lot on the right side of the building. The triangle on screen showed him moving to Virginia Dare Drive.
“We get within 10 meters of your location before they even say a word,” Lowe said of the system’s accuracy.
In fact, MCB Camp Lejeune’s center serves as a model for the Marine Corps’ push to standardize all 911 centers throughout the Marine Corps by 2014. It is one of only three full-fledged Public Safety Answering Points in the Marine Corps.
All of the personnel working in the center are fully qualified as well. The dispatchers must have national Emergency Medical Dispatcher training certification every two years, Department of Defense Hazardous Materials Awareness training, CPR, and North Carolina Division of Criminal Information certification, and Department of Defense Telecommunications one and two certificates.
“These folks are the first, first responders,” said Lowe. “They’re talking to the upset mom about her baby she just pulled out of the rubble of a building after a tornado. They’re talking to the dad trying to deliver his baby on the side of a road. They’re talking to that 8-year-old boy who’s hiding in a closet while his mommy and daddy are in an argument. They’re that person who’s telling you it’s ok and that someone is on the way. They’re that person asking you multiple questions to ensure the correct response is dispatched to you as quickly as possible. A lot of people forget about the person taking the call.”