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911 calls increase in 2009

COVINGTON -- Calls to 911 increased by more than 4 percent in 2009, according to an annual report recently released by the Covington-Newton County 911 Communications Center.

Total calls to the center, including officer generated calls, were 113,315.

Of those calls, 85.56 percent involved law enforcement agencies, for a total of 96,957 calls, an increase of nearly 5 percent from 2008.

About 54 percent, or 61,403 calls, were dispatched to the Newton County Sheriff's Office.

Nearly 25 percent, or 28,199 calls, were dispatched to Covington Police Department. The Porterdale Police Department was dispatched to 4,913 calls or 4.34 percent of calls, with the Oxford Police Department dispatched to 1.69 percent, or 1,919 calls.

Animal Control was dispatched to .4 percent of calls and the Georgia State Patrol to .06 percent.

Fire calls accounted for 7,178 calls, or 6.33 percent of total calls. The number of fire calls increased by about 1 percent from 2008. Newton County Fire answered 5,221 calls, while Covington Fire Department answered 1,947.

EMS calls totaled 9,897, or 8.73 percent of total calls. The number of EMS calls increased by almost 8 percent from 2008.

Since 2001, call volume has been steadily increasing, but the center has not increased staff, according to Director Mike Smith, who said keeping up with call volume has 911 Center staffers "dancing on a razor's edge."

"It increases the workload and stress level for our communication officers. With the budgeting crisis everybody is experiencing, we're going to have to learn to deal with it. I don't see an increase in staffing in our future," he said.

The increase in wireless calls to the 911 center increased by about 11 percent in 2009, while land line calls had a slight decrease of .9 percent.

The rising number of cell phone calls has little effect on dispatchers' ability to do their jobs, Smith said, noting that the inability to get an exact location from a cell phone call is rare.

The report indicates that the 911 center is well within its established standard of answering 90 percent of calls for service within 10 seconds.

According to the report, 97.8 percent of 911 calls were answered within 10 seconds. The majority of calls were answered in between 4 and 6 seconds.

The 911 Center has received rave reviews on its new Facebook page, which went up in November, and provides weather and traffic updates, road and school closings and general public service announcements, Smith said.

"We've had a number of public comments from people who go to it before leaving the house in the morning," he said.

The report indicates that six complaints were investigated during 2009, with four sustained -- two for neglect of duty and two for improper call taking.

"Our communications center made at least 174,231 contacts with the public this year, based on our incoming 911 and administrative line calls received. The number of complaints received compared to the contacts made with the public shows that approximately .00004 percent of contacts resulted in a complaint filed. No investigation revealed the need to change policy or training practices; however, some did indicate a need for remedial or refresher training for individual employees," the report states.

Staff completed more than 1,600 hours of training during 2009, not including training of new recruits. The center's policy is that each employee complete a minimum of 20 hours of training each year. On the community outreach front, the staff hosted six tours of the center and made seven presentations for schools and community groups.