Paul Harkins, director of Lee County E-911, said he estimates 5 percent of their calls could be better served by someone else but he would rather have someone call 911 than not.
“You get into a dangerous area when you try to get people to self-diagnose,” he said. “If you have indigestion you should probably go to the doctor, but people who are having indigestion could be having it as a symptom of a heart attack and paramedics could end up saving their lives while helping them get to the hospital.”
When a caller is unsure of who to call, they should still call 911, but smaller injuries like hurt knees or headaches will take a life-saving paramedic team out of service.
“When you’re dealing with paramedics that can do true life-saving procedures and you have somebody that fell and hurt their knee – if they’re a normally healthy person – then they should be able to get to a car and get to the hospital and an ambulance isn’t going to do anything different for them than riding in a car,” he said.
The same goes for someone who may have had their cellphone stolen. Instead of calling 911 to have an officer dispatched to them, the victim of cellphone theft could call the police station or go up to the station to file a report.
The dispatch center in Lee County is responsible for 10 law enforcement agencies, one ambulance service and 18 fire departments. About 18,000 calls go in and out of the E-911 office each month.
Dispatchers in the E-911 office in Saltillo said they regularly field calls where residents report a fallen tree that hasn’t caused any property damage or injury, a septic tank backup, power outages or general weather inquiries.
Harkins said everyone should include the number to the utility department and Emergency Management Agency in an emergency kit to contact the proper agency during an emergency.
One service that helps take the load off 911 is the United Way’s 211 Mississippi.
“We say 211 is to health and human services as 911 is to emergencies,” said Mandy Scott, director of marketing for the Capital Area United Way. “We get a lot of calls about housing, rental assistance and utility assistance but we are cable of handling help with anything from elderly parents or someone who thinks their child isn’t hearing correctly or mental services – any time they don’t know where to go, call 211.”
Scott said they field up to 40,000 calls each year and the service is completely anonymous, they only ask the caller’s age and ZIP code to help locate services.
Who To Call
911 – Emergency Services - Call for law enforcement, ambulance and fire emergencies.
211 – Health and Human Services - Connects to health and human services like Red Cross and Salvation Army.
(662) 842-7635 – Tombigbee Electric Power Association – Call for power outages.
(662) 620-6598 – Tupelo Water and Light – Call for utility problems inside Tupelo.
(662) 841-6491 – Tupelo Police Department – Call for non-emergency police services like filing reports.
(662) 841-9040 – Lee County Sheriff’s Office – Call for non-emergency law enforcement services in Lee County or for jail information.
(662) 841-9020 – Lee County Emergency Management – Call for disaster response information.
(901) 544-0399 – National Weather Service – Call for weather information and forecasts.