How Chatham 911 Center prepared for spike in calls for snow

(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The winter weather that just hit Savannah also hit the 911 call center hard.  The 911 center director says recent hurricanes actually played a role in their preparation.

The 911 call center says its experience with hurricanes helped because they used the same extreme weather procedures to answer calls.

The Chatham County 911 center operators work 24/7, but last week's winter weather blast kept employees very busy. Judith Miller is the Chatham County 911 Operations Coordinator

"It was a particular challenge because our people, a lot of them had never even seen snow," Miller said.

The center was overstaffed because they anticipated the spike in emergency calls as snow and ice blanketed Southeast Georgia. The center also changed how they answered calls.

"We had to actually regroup our staff in different ways to answer different emergencies and we had to figure out a way to do outbound notifications," says Miller.

The response protocol for 911 center employees was familiar.

"Ice and snow events are not common for us, but we used our normal training that we would use for extreme weather conditions. Which would be to make sure that we gather enough information to get the appropriate responder," Miller said.

There was one call the center didn't anticipate.

"I would say one of the ones that did surprise me is when we heard the words "train derailment". Now luckily for us, it was very minor and that train stayed upright," Miller said.

Switches on the track froze and when the Amtrak train reversed, some compartments derailed, but the 300 passengers on board were all okay. Miller said she's very proud of her staff and confident that they can handle extreme heat, tornadoes, hurricanes, and yes, now snowy weather systems.

"Always be aware that these events, even though we live in the South can happen to us," she said.

Miller says among the spike in 911 calls were non-emergency calls from people asking about the weather, road closures, and bridges.  Although it may seem like an emergency, she urges everyone to check with news outlets first, so they can focus on emergency calls that need an ambulance, police, or fire truck.

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