Calling 911 – SouthCom Explained

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Dispatcher Emily Leber fields calls at SouthCom Combined Dispatch Center in Matteson. (Photo: ENEWSPF)

Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF)— Village officials toured SouthCom dispatch center in Matteson on Monday, July 16. In attendance were Director of SouthCom, Ron Bonneau, Denise Pavlik, Telecommunications Supervisor for SouthCom, Trustees Georgia O’Neill, Gary Kopycinski, Mae Brandon, Bonita Dillard, Ken Kramer, Director of Recreation and Parks John Joyce, Village Manager Tom Mick, Police Chief Tom Fleming, and Fire Chief Robert Wilcox. Denise Pavlik provided the board with an overview of operations.

She explained that SouthCom currently has three tiers of funding.  There is funding from the wire-line phone surcharge, which is for Park Forest and Olympia Fields is $1.25, and $.80 for Richton Park and Matteson.  There also is state wireless funding, defined by state statute, which is $.45, based on a wireless customer’s billing address.  Finally, there is funding directly from individual municipalities.  There is no funding from Voice over IP (VoIP), callers who may call from a personal computer.  In addition, pre-paid cell phones do not pay a surcharge.

Park Forest pays its share based on number of 9-1-1 calls for service relative to the number of calls for service made by the other communities.  A call for service is one which requires that police or fire officials be dispatched.  Officers are dispatched for 9-1-1 hang-up calls.  Chief Fleming noted that Chicago is trying to implement a surcharge for 9-1-1 hang-ups where there was no emergency, such as when a child plays on the phone, inadvertently calling police, “We’ll go to a house where the kids will play on the phone, or the parents will give the kids a cell phone to play with, and, if the battery’s live, they’ll call 9-1-1.”

Chief Tom Fleming explained the rationale for determining Park Forest’s share, “We pay our share based on calls.  When we came in our first year, we were 39%,” meaning that Park Forest accounted for 39% of all 9-1-1 calls for service to SouthCom.  Fleming continued, “Now, since Matteson is adding housing, they’re at 39%, and we’re at 38%.  So, our share has gone down.”

Pavlik said SouthCom operates on an annual budget of $2.1 million.

SouthCom is equipped to locate a cell phone caller via GPS signal, if the phone is GPS capable.  With the permission of officials at SouthCom, Trustee Kramer successfully tested the GPS system while at the facility, dialing 9-1-1 from inside the building. An image of a person appeared on a monitor showing his location very near to the dispatch center on Lincoln Highway.

There was no call for service as a result of Kramer’s call.

According to officials at SouthCom, locating a VoIP caller is more complex.  Using VoIP, one can call from any internet connection, anywhere in the world.  When one makes a VoIP 9-1-1 call, the address that shows is the address where the account is registered.

Ron Bonneau related one instance out a 9-1-1 center in St. Louis.  The dispatcher received a call from a woman who had lived at Scott Air Force Base.  Her husband was in the Air Force and had moved to South Korea.  She joined him.  Some time later, they entered into a disagreement; she locked herself in the bedroom, and used her internet phone to call 9-1-1.  The call was routed to St. Clair County, IL, and the address for Scott Air Force Base popped up on the dispatcher’s monitor.  The dispatcher called the base, and, because the military knew who she was and where they were living, they were able to locate her and the base did get police to her in 15 minutes.  But this was a special circumstance.

Village Manager stressed that the best way to ensure a response to the correct address is to make the 9-1-1 call from a hard line phone if at all possible.

Pavlik reviewed the procedures for calling the non-emergency number, 708-748-4700.  Callers are prompted to “hang up and dial 9-1-1” if their call is an emergency, and prompted to press “1” if they need police for a non-emergency situation – like locking keys in the car.  Callers are prompted to press “2” for the records department.  All callers pressing “1” will have their calls routed to SouthCom in Matteson, while callers pressing “2” will have their calls routed to the PFPD records department.  Callers who do nothing, or press anything but “1” or “2”, will have their calls routed directly to SouthCom in case they are in an emergency situation.

In the event that a caller presses “2”, connects with the PFPD, and still needs an officer dispatched, the records department at the police station sends a message to SouthCom, and SouthCom dispatches an officer.

Realizing that many people may be accustomed to dialing the non-emergency number, Director Ron Bonneau stressed that, while 9-1-1 is intended for emergency situations, and 748-4700 is intended for non-emergency situations, the option “1” exists so callers do not have to hang up and dial 9-1-1.

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