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Upgrade eases communication between deaf, 911 dispatchers

October 10, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Chambersburg, Pa. - An upgrade to Franklin County's 911 emergency telephone system allows faster and easier communications between dispatchers and the deaf, according to Jerry Flasher, the county's director of emergency services.

"The upgraded system provides the 911 telecommunicators with an immediate indicator that the call is coming from a telecommunications device for the deaf or hearing-impaired," Flasher said.

The 911 center receives a tone from the devices that triggers the switchover.

In addition to automatically switching into TDD mode, dispatchers now have a set of programmed questions that can be asked of hearing-impaired 911 callers, according to Michele Sanders, the quality assurance training coordinator for the county. This frees dispatchers from having to type in most of their questions, she said.

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"They just go through and ask all the questions they normally ask during an emergency," Sanders said. The hearing-impaired caller then types in the responses, she said.

All dispatchers received four hours of classroom training on the system, including actual communication with a TDD device, and periodically are selected at random to operate the system to ensure they have retained that training.

"We've been able to talk to the deaf ever since we've had 911," Sanders said.

The technology, however, has advanced rapidly over more than a decade.

Bob Hoover, president of Easter Seals in Franklin and Adams counties, said he knows of about 20 homes in the county with TDD devices. Most people with partial hearing loss use volume-enhancing devices on their telephones, he said.

Another upgrade to the 911 system allows the center to add a notation to an individual telephone number that will display any disability issue, Flasher said.

"If there is a person or situation at a residence that may require 911 assistance and we know that there may be a problem communicating with the operator, we can attach a small electronic note to that telephone number," Flasher said.

If someone dials 911, but is unable to communicate, the notation can give telecommunicators an indication of what the emergency is, such as any medical conditions a person living at the address may have.

Anyone with a severe medical condition that may limit his or her ability to communicate over the telephone can send the information in writing to the 911 center. The information can be addressed to 911 Center, 157 Lincoln Way East, Chambersburg, PA 17201.

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