New law streamlines suicide hotline number to simply 988

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Juanice Gray | Editor
It’s been a busy month at the NATCOM call center. The sheriff?s office handled 1,684 calls while the police department fielded 436. Kim Tolliver, 911 Communications District Executive Director, said the numbers reflect administrative calls as well as 911 calls. “All are emergent in some nature,” she said. NPSO Communications Director LaQuita Collins said they have abandoned, or dropped, calls due to a variety of reasons. She said of the 92 abandoned calls last month, 65 were viable numbers and they called them all back. The balance of the calls were “most likely from non-working cell phones,” Collins said. “They still have the ability to call 911, but don?t show a call back number.”
Response time to emergency calls and a dedicated three-digit suicide hotline number dominated the discussion during the regular 911 Commission meeting April 19.
A recent incident resulted in a delayed response, an occurrence the board deems inappropriate. Board member Eric Keel, representing the EMS service, said, “Once EMS got the call, we were there within 5 minutes.”
The issue was 911 was not called first. The caller contacted a first responder branch directly.
“There was a fail point (where the call was generated),” Tolliver said. ?We need to refresh proper procedures and dispatch protocol with them.?
In July, the suicide hotline will no longer be a 1-800 number, but 988. Tolliver said the law was passed and the communications district must adapt to the new number. Those calling the suicide hotline will dial 988 to reach an operator. ?Those operators will contact us, 911, if they feel it is necessary. The 988 calls can be transferred to 911.
From a law enforcement standpoint, there is no crime in suicide, however, if it is determined there is a danger to others, 911 is then contacted.
Commission members discussed at length the procedures and tactics involved in responding to a suicide situation.
Tolliver addressed concerns over the warning sirens. She said some have complained that they cannot hear the sirens indoors. Tolliver explained the sirens are designed to alert residents to take cover. “They are a warning to get inside,” she said. ?They are not designed to be heard indoors. Commissioners urged residents to utilize Code Red or Regroup to have emergency alerts sent directly to their phones.
Road signs continue to be an issue. Two signs were replaced in February and nine in March bringing the total since August to 39. Should the replacements become overbearing, the commission considered changing to a numeric system rather than the current road names. Collins advised the undertaking would require redoing the 911 files, for every address in the parish.
The Addressing Office processed eight new residence applications in February and seven in March.
Commissioner Calvin Braxton posed the question of the direction the district is headed. Tolliver said the most critical advancement is Nexgen, text to 911, and then unity with other agencies around the state.
A bill to designate communications officers as first responders passed the House of Representatives April 19 by a vote of 99 to zero. HB 392 authored by Rep. Jason Hughes of Baton Rouge was then referred to the Committee on Local and Municipal Affairs April 20.