When an Oct. 26 storm struck Daviess County and knocked out power over large sections of town, the city-county 911 dispatch center was flooded with calls.
Over about two and a half hours, the dispatch center received more than 300 911 calls and another 174 calls on its non-emergency line.
Paul Nave, director of the 911 center, said while dispatchers were trying to take emergency calls, they were also inundated with people calling 911 to report non-emergencies, namely power outages.
"This (storm) was actually similar to (Hurricane) Ike ... in that it affected the entire community at one time," Nave said Wednesday. The remnants of Hurricane Ike struck the region in September 2008 with high winds shredding trees and power poles.
The Oct. 26 storm was similar, with power out over large swaths of the city and downed power lines across Southtown Boulevard. People were calling 911 and asking dispatchers to essentially relay messages to OMU or Kenergy, Nave said.
"We have people calling 911, frustrated they couldn't get ahold of their electrical provider," Nave said. "... They wanted us to report their electrical outage to OMU."
Nave said while he understands that people were frustrated about their power outages, calling 911 for a non-emergency creates problems because it ties up emergency lines and dispatchers, who have to deal with a call at least long enough to determine whether there's an actual emergency.
It's not part of dispatch's mission to relay messages to utilities in non-emergencies. Dispatchers were busy prioritizing 911 calls as they came in, he said.
When dispatch receives any 911 call, it's treated as an emergency call because, well, that's the purpose of 911. Nave said whether a person who calls 911 to report an emergency, or is calling to complain their power is out, a 911 call is an emergency call as far as the system is concerned.
The only way for dispatchers to determine if the call is an emergency or not is to answer it and start asking questions.
"The system is designed (so) the first-rung (911) call is answered first," Nave said. So while a call about lost power might is being answered during a high-call event, another call with a legitimate emergency could be waiting.
Of course, there are times when not having power is an emergency, such as when a person uses medical equipment that requires power to function. In that case, people should certainly call 911, Nave said.
"We're not asking people to not call 911," Nave said. "We're asking people to not call 911 for a non-emergency."
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse