Who Ya Gonna Call?
By Carla Garnett
On the Front Page...
Employees who work on NIH's Bethesda campus should now call 911 for police, fire and emergency services, according to O.W. Sweat, director of NIH's Division of Public Safety, Office of Research Services. Previously, the campus had its own emergency numbers for such crises, but DPS seeks to reduce confusion that employees, contractors and visitors to the campus may have. As always, NIH police, fire fighters and other emergency staff will respond to on-campus calls. A year-long overlap between the old 115 and 116 systems and the new 911 system will allow everyone to get accustomed to the universal system. Those employees working in off-campus buildings will still need to press "9" before calling 911.
"Universal 911 will enable the police department and the fire department to serve the NIH community better," says Capt. Will Liston of DPS. "We should see quicker response times, smoother operations and fewer breakdowns in communication. Employees and visitors will see an improvement with this system."
The switchover to 911 is the culmination of a long process that required that NIH be certified according to national emergency standards and will include a complete overhaul of the agency's communications system within DPS. The universal 911 system has already been tested both on and off campus. It became fully operational on Aug. 17. All those who use NIH telephones are urged to call 911 only for emergency situations. To contact the Police Branch for nonemergency assistance, call 496-5685; the Fire Department can be reached at 496-2372 during nonemergencies.
The new universal system requires at least two operators to staff the unit at all times. Already, DPS has hired six new civilian dispatchers to run what is called its "Emergency Communication Center." Among other upgrades to the system, the required new equipment will allow dispatchers to know immediately where calls originate. They also will be able to accept calls more easily from people using telephone devices for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Eventually, the new system will also give dispatchers a complete onscreen history of the building or site of the emergency, explains Liston. "That's going to be particularly important in hazardous material situations," he says. "As soon as the call comes in, we'll know exactly what we're dealing with, whether there are special chemicals in the area or other things emergency personnel need to be aware of immediately."
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