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Public Safety: Even for non-emergencies, 911's your number

The Dakota Communications Center and its trained dispatchers use an "all-response protocol," according to Kent Therkelsen, its executive director.

Simply put, that means people can -- and often should -- dial 911 for more than just emergencies, he said.

If someone calls a police station in one of Dakota County's cities for an emergency, they are often asked to hang up and dial 911 or the call is transferred. That's because The Dakota Communications Center's 911 dispatchers are responsive. They use state-of-the-art equipment to automate data entry and track the response to the emergency.

"If you need someone to respond - law enforcement, fire or medical - emergency or otherwise, it's OK to call 911," Therkelsen said.

People should call 911 for any situation that requires a police officer at the scene such as traffic accidents, burglaries, property damage, parking complaints or ordinance violations. Calling 911 is also the right thing to do to request an ambulance, receive medical assistance or report a fire or signs of a fire such as smoke or fire alarms. Also use 911 to report suspicious or criminal activity such as shouts for help, breaking glass or suspicious vehicles or people.

Contact your local police department or sheriff's administrative phone line for information about city ordinances, the status of reports or investigations, contacting a specific officer or employee, about a person under arrest or about impounded vehicles or animals.

"Our dispatchers do a good job in determining which calls are triage," Therkelsen said. "Dispatchers skillfully evaluate each call, ensuring that we handle emergencies before lower priority calls; but if the public isn't comfortable calling 911 for non-emergencies, they can use the seven-digit number, 322-2323."

After operating for 14 months and receiving nearly 200,000 emergency calls, dispatchers at the Dakota Communications Center continue to remind the public they should call 911 not just for emergencies, but anytime they need law enforcement, fire, or medical personnel to respond.

Calling 911 when you need someone to respond helps dispatchers be more efficient. When residents call 911 from a conventional telephone line, the dispatcher receives information from an automated system that helps them respond quickly.

That means shorter response times, Therkelsen said.

If both a 911 call and the seven-digit numbers are coming into the communications center, the 911 call is always answered first, Therkelsen said.

Before the DCC became operational in late 2007, there were five other similar communications centers. All used the same approach to 911.

Dakota County's responses time is very good, Therkelsen said.

"The call is answered in five to six seconds," he said. "That is usually one ring."

In addition to the improved response time, the DCC will save taxpayers' money. It's estimated combining Dakota County's five former dispatch centers into one will save millions of tax dollars in operating costs over the first several years and another $3.8 million in avoided capital costs. A new 800 MHz radio system has also enhanced communications, especially with other jurisdictions or outside agencies.