GREENSBORO, N.C. — Two minutes.
That’s enough time for most of us to make a quick run to the kitchen for a snack during a commercial.
Sometimes, it’s even a perfect scheme to make history, as the New York Giants proved with a two-minute drill to win Super Bowl XLII.
But to the emergency communications specialists at Guilford Metro 911 – two minutes can mean the difference between life and death.
Two minutes is almost the amount of time the agency has trimmed off emergency response times in the past four years – the crowning achievement of Thursday’s anniversary of the consolidation of the Greensboro and Guilford County 911 centers.
“For a cardiac (arrest), a baby delivery, (or) somebody having chest pain, it can mean the difference between life and death for them,” said Melanie Neal, a shift supervisor at Guilford Metro 911.
“(At) a critical point when something can go wrong – first responders can already be there,” Neal said.
Four years ago, the average response time for medical and fire calls was about four minutes – now it’s down to just under two minutes. The average for all calls, including law enforcement, is 2 minutes and 23 seconds.
The quicker response comes as a direct result of consolidation, as calls no longer have to be transferred.
Before consolidation – callers reporting a medical emergency to Greensboro 911 would always be transferred to Guilford 911 because Greensboro dispatchers weren’t trained as Emergency Medical Dispatchers.
From the county 911, the call sometimes would be transferred back to the Greensboro center for the city fire department to arrive as a first responder.
With consolidation, Guilford Metro 911 eliminated 65,000 transfers between call centers – cutting down on response times.
“(Now) citizens can pretty much make one call to one center for all of their public safety needs,” said Wesley Reid, director of Guilford Metro 911.
“Nothing was more difficult than getting a caller saying ‘My husband is having a heart attack’ and having to say ‘Hold please, let me transfer your call,'” Reid said.
Transfers still are necessary in some instances – with medical calls received from the High Point 911 Communications Center – a separate agency that handles emergency communications in that part of Guilford County.
Because of consolidation, in about 22 seconds dispatchers were able to call in more police officers to assist two overwhelmed deputies when a large fight broke out at Gabriel’s restaurant and catering on Big Tree Way on Feb. 24.
The restaurant was packed with 900 people, and an estimated 200 to 300 were fighting.
“The (sheriff’s) dispatcher was able to turn to the police dispatcher to get help out and on the way immediately instead of having to make transfers or calls between centers,” Reid said.
The Guilford Metro consolidation came out of a meeting of city and county government officials and emergency officials who were seeking ways to better serve the public.
Consolidation began gradually over a four-year span, at a cost of $500,000, Reid said. The official launch date for the consolidated 911 center was March 20, 2007.
The money went mainly toward renovating the old Greensboro 911 center at 1201 Coliseum Blvd. to house more dispatchers.
They upgraded furniture and purchased land for additional parking.
Construction of a new consolidated center would have cost about $10 million, according to estimates, Reid said.
The timing of the consolidation was a money saver, too, as it coincided with the expiration of many contracts the city and county governments had with vendors who supplied technical equipment. Software upgrades had already been planned in budgets for 2007, eliminating additional consolidation costs.
Consolidation also allowed Guilford Metro 911 to create a backup call center at the old Guilford County 911 building on Meadowood Street.
The site acts as a second location for operations in case of emergencies such as power outages and evacuations, or the location can act as an overflow center if the main call center gets overwhelmed in the event of a catastrophe.
“If we would have had a catastrophic event here in Guilford County two to three years ago, there was no backup and no place for us to go,” Reid said. “For a good amount of time, citizens wouldn’t have been able to reach anybody from the 911 aspect.”
Consolidation also has allowed Guilford Metro 911 to be on the forefront of new 911 technology initiatives. It is one of only three 911 centers nationwide involved in the testing of Next Generation 911 – a new technology that will allow dispatchers to receive emergency calls through text messages, pictures sent from cell phones and pagers.
“Some of that occurred with the Virginia Tech (shootings),” Reid said. “Several of those students were found trying to text 911, but it was going nowhere.”
If things go well, Reid hopes Guilford Metro will be one of the first 911 centers to adopt the new technology later this year.
“People aren’t aware of how good of a (911) system they have here in Guilford County,” Reid said. “We always knew consolidations always start out rocky … but we are quite pleased with where we are now. But we have a long way to go.”
Contact Ryan Seals at 373-7077 or ryan.seals @news-record.com.
Calls handled in 2007: 900,000
Dispatches for service: 400,000
Number of radio transmissions: more than 2 million