Non-Emergency Callers Overwhelm 911 Operators

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - People around the Tennessee Valley get antsy when the first snow flake falls. Some hop in their cars, stay home and others make a few calls before making their move.

One group of critical personnel handles a lot of those calls. The call-takers are probably at the point of screaming. It's likely come to that point a few times in the last couple of days with the recent snowstorms.

A 911 operator told WHNT News 19 he loves helping callers in need, but wants to make sure the people calling him are in need.

It is hard to pinpoint the minute a snowflake will start its fall. It's even harder to predict a few.

You could say the same for someone making a call to Madison County's 911 Call Center.

“'It`s unexpected. You can get anything at any time,” said 911 Operator Chuck Tonini.

The 911 operators work in groups. Each handles police, fire and HEMSI.

“We spread the wealth pretty well, but we get a call every 5-10 minutes,” added Tonini.

Tonini says no two calls are the same. He's in his 15th year working as a 911 operator in Madison County. He's manned the phone many times when weather was a threat.

Tonini has wasted more time than he'd prefer listening to questions with answers someone could find elsewhere.

“It runs the gamut. It can be anything from what roads are closed, what businesses are closed or can I get up on the mountain,” said Tonini.

The 911 operators know those calls are important to some, but urge the people to stop and think before dialing.

“So, people who have real emergencies can call and reach us,” added Tonini.

Madison County’s 911 Call Center is the largest call center of this type in the state. It still gets overloaded. Please give operators a break. Do not call them unless you have a true emergency.


  • Karinttt

    We should assign a number, like 611, to a desk and hire a couple of college students with computers (and access to Google) to divert these non emergency information calls. That way people would get the answers they need when there is an event going on. Either that or start charging people $50 who dial 911 and do not need an ambulance, the police or have a fire. A few $50 fines would slow these folks down. Unless you’re mentally ill, there’s no reason you should be calling 911 without an emergency. But it would be nice to have information available about road closings and other information you need during a weather or other event. We need one more number to be able to call. Not everyone has access to a computer to search for the info.

    • Linda

      @Karinttt, that’s a great idea! Not sure how it could be funded, and of course there would always be liability issues (since some idiot would undoubtedly sue if they were told a road was open and it was actually closed), but…I definitely like the idea! :)

      And maybe as another good idea: put your local police departments’ phone numbers as a contact number in your phone. That way, if you see something that is a non-emergency, you don’t have to fumble around looking up the phone number. I’ve personally done this many times, rather than calling 911.

    • EK

      Too bad the story does not mention the purpose of establishing 311 to handle these type of non emergency calls as done in many other areas .

  • Bob

    Stupid people. They ought to be charged for each non emergency call they make to 911. People are really ignorant these days.

  • Annoyed Viewer

    How about telling Jason that interrupting programming is like calling 911 – it’s for emergencies, not for random comments. He’s getting ridiculous.

  • mskenney

    I thought we have 211 established for this in Alabama. I remember during the 2011 tornadoes, we called 211 to get non-emergency info on what services were available and what roads/businesses were open or closed…if you have a question, give it a try and report back whether or not it works please…thanks!

  • Debbie

    I agree with the $50 fine for non-emergency calls. As far as Jason interrupting programming… WHNT is a privately owned business and they can do anything they like.

Comments are closed.

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