"Most importantly is the location," E-911 Division's Maj. Jessica Pruett said. "That's going to be the first thing we need to know because if we don't know where you're at we can't get you the help that you need."
Bartow's dispatchers work with the sheriff's office, Cartersville police, Cartersville and Bartow County fire departments, emergency medical service, campus police and all municipalities -- Emerson, Euharlee, Kingston, White and Adairsville.
"We take all emergency and non-emergency calls," Pruett said. "Anyone who calls here thinks they're having an emergency. They at least have an issue [and an emergency would be] anything requiring an immediate response whether it be EMS, fire or law enforcement. At the same time, we are the dispatchers. We do not have call takers and dispatchers. It's the same person doing the same thing, so we take them all and we dispatch them all."
Although there are several officers for the cities as well as deputies on patrol available to respond to calls to take reports such as theft or criminal damage to property, the 911 division reminds callers to be patient.
"It's prioritizing calls," Pruett said. "Someone may be on the way to what they consider a report call and something [may] come in that is in progress that they need to divert to and sometimes that does cause a delay."
To ensure that the best help is provided, operators need to know basic information and any details of the situation that can possibly be provided.
"[We need to know] the where, who, what, when -- everything. Of course we're going to ask you the location, your name and phone number, what's going on, just the very basic but depending on the type of call is going to depend on how much further we go into that," Pruett said. "We do have a protocol for medical calls. We have [Emergency Medical Dispatching] charts that we have to go by. So we are asking sometimes what they feel is a lot of questions but it's to make sure that we get the most help there the quickest that we can by going by those charts."
Dispatchers also ask that people pay attention to where they are when traveling in case of an emergency. Even if residents know where they are going, they may not know every street name from their beginning point to the end destination.
"Before I started working here I'd go on vacation and travel. It was nothing to get on the interstate and travel and just drive. I know where I'm going, but if I'm in a wreck or something, I wouldn't know what to tell them," Capt. Melanie Black said. "Anytime I get outside Bartow County that's the first thing I do. Most people don't do that. They know where they're going and how to get there. If anything's stopping them between point A and point B, they can't tell you where they're at."
When traveling, Black also noted that one's local 911 office is not who residents will speak with when they dial the number.
"I've taken calls before where someone's from another state and they're traveling here, and when you answer the phone, they automatically assume it's their 911," Black said, "and they say, 'I just hung up the phone with my sister and she's having chest pains.' 'Well, OK, where's your sister?' 'Well, isn't this such-and-such county?' 'No. What state is that in?' They think because they live such-and-such their 911 goes with them."
A call to 911 is sent to the nearest cell tower from the caller, which could be a different county than desired if one is near a border.
In case emergency strikes, the 911 department cannot stress the importance of location enough, noting that calling from cellphones and computers does not provide the dispatcher with the caller's location.
"With technology the way it is, they think they can just call and we automatically know where they're at and we don't," Pruett said. "What you've got to realize is it depends on the type of phone you have, the company you use, what they offer, and at best, we can get 200 to 250 yards from where you're at if you have what is required in order for us to do your longitude and latitude. So if you're inside of a house we're still not going to know exactly where you're at if there's no identifier you can give to us."
Black agreed, adding that "location is so important because there are so many variables. We can always send everybody to figure out what's going on as long as we know where."
Social media sites and applications such as Four Square that allow users to "check-in" are not always accurate either, creating greater misconceptions for operators to battle.
"You can punch in your Facebook where you are from your cellphone and everybody reads it, so they assume, 'Well, Facebook and my phone can do that, why can't 911?'" Black said, recalling that she had posted something and at least once a different place from where she was had attached to her post, completely changing her true location.
Accidental calls are an issue the division faces frequently as well. As technology improves and phones are often used as video gaming devices, parents may forget the gadget is still, primarily, a telephone.
"People don't realize with cellphones, constantly upgrading and trac phones and things like that, once they're done with that phone and they give it to their child to play with, as long as there's a battery charge that phone can still dial 911," Black said. "We get calls like that all the time and we have no information on it. There's not a call-back number because it's not assigned a number and there's no SIM card. It's very hard to figure out, is this a child playing?"
Bartow's 911 operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week with dispatchers working 12-hour shifts. According to the Bartow County Sheriff's Office website, communications operators are "trained to assist callers with their individual request for law enforcement, fire and medical assistance ... achieved by receiving certifications in basic communications through Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training, CPR, Emergency Medical Dispatch, Georgia Crime Information Center [and] National Incident Management System."