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Dispatchers talk about non-emergency calls coming into 911 emergency lines

Roanoke County dispatchers say they receive many calls for other companies

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Roanoke County dispatchers have a message for the community, as winter weather and frigid temperatures are leading to more non-emergency calls on the lines that are reserved for 911 emergencies.

"People will call if their car is locked and they're trying to get into it, if their power is out or their cable isn't working," says Tyler Severa, a communications officer with Roanoke County. "They'll call us and ask if we know what's going on or they'll call 911 and ask if there are accidents in the area."

While these issues may be important to the caller, communications officers say they're not the ones to answer those questions. Dispatchers say during this time of year, when we see power outages because of winter weather, they see an uptick in the number of people calling to report those outages or calling to see when their power will be restored.

These are calls that tie up the phone lines and could put a true emergency on the back burner, wasting valuable time.

So we asked -- what are emergencies that would warrant a call to 911?

"Anytime you would need an ambulance to respond or police to respond because there's an immediate threat to life or property," says Craig Sheets, a communications training officer. "If there's a fire of any type, obviously you want to call 911 because it gives us a better location to where you're at and is a priority."

At the Roanoke County dispatch center, there are typically between five to nine dispatchers working at a time. With such a big area to cover, it's not uncommon for all of them to be on a call at the same time. That's why they say it's important for the community to recognize the emergency calls versus the calls that may be better suited elsewhere.

When it comes to kids who are just learning about 911, they say it's important to teach those young callers that lesson early.

"We don't want them to be scared to call 911 in the event that they do have an emergency," says Sheets. "If they walk into the living room and mommy is on the floor and she won't wake up, we don't want them to be afraid to call 911. But we also want them to understand that it's strictly for an emergency."

Here are some common non-emergency numbers that may come in handy:
Roanoke County Non-Emergency: 540-562-3265
Roanoke City Non-Emergency: 540-344-6681
Western Virginia Water Authority: 540-853-5700
Appalachian Power: 1-800-956-4237