Webster High School made a 911 phone call earlier this summer because a student was having a seizure and the school needed medical support.
When the secretary heard the voice on the other line one of the first questions was “which city and state are you in?”
Sue Eytcheson, Webster High School secretary said the 911 call was made sometime in late May or early June. She said the phone was answered by someone “somewhere in the world.” She just knew it was not answered in Burnett County.
“They asked me what city and state I was calling from,” Eytcheson told the Sentinel. “It was befuddling and then frustrating because when you need an ambulance you need it now, not 10 minutes from now.”
She added it was answered by a woman speaking English. However, it was difficult for Eytcheson to understand the situation because she was calling from Burnett County and it did not make sense why was she not speaking to someone with the Burnett County dispatch center.
Eytcheson eventually got a hold of the Burnett County Dispatch center and all three were on the phone together trying to figure out the situation. An ambulance was sent after the brief confusion with the call.
Webster School District switched over to an IP phone system which makes calls through the Internet and not the standard phone company. It’s a common cost saving method used by businesses including gas standards.
The problem arises when a 911 call inside Burnett County does not go directly to the Burnett County Dispatch Center, but instead goes to a call center overseas. The dispatcher possibly 1000s of miles away then has to find where the call is coming from and then has to contact the local dispatch center and give them the information.
Technology Specialist Steve Sacharski with the Burnett County Sheriff’s Office brought up the issue at the Public Safety committee meeting last week. He described the situation as “the school called a third-party operator for a 911 center overseas.”
The conversation shifted to short-term solutions for the problem including calling the Sheriff’s office directly and then being put through to dispatch, which would create an extra step in the emergency phone call situation but could be better than having the phone call routed overseas.
Supervisor Dorothy Richard was nervous about this kind of issue continuing to arise across the county.
“This kind of thing could be serious,” Richard said. “Someone could die.”
Webster Superintendent has been looking for answers to this problem and said he has got more questions than answers during his search.
“Evidently the fiber phones don’t recognize local phone lines,” Erickson said. “And it doesn’t seem that we can just have three or four local extensions. It’s all or nothing.”
Erickson said he will be contacting other school districts in the area because he thought it was odd that Webster is the only district that has fiber phone lines.
Jessica Jackson is the director of technology of Siren schools. She told the Sentinel that Siren does not have fiber phone lines.
Jesse Byers is the technology director for Grantsburg Schools. He said some of the schools in the district have switched over to fiber lines.
“The middle school and Nelson have fiber phone lines,” Byers said.
“We’ll be going over a protocol with the teachers on how to handle an event like this if it comes up in the future,” Erickson added. Some of the possibilities for Webster school for the short-term are having the school call the sheriff’s office.
He added they will also be brainstorming with the district principals on long term solutions to the issue.
“It is important that our staff and students be safe,” Erickson said. “And that includes being able to get ahold of authorities in case of an emergency as quickly and efficiently as possible.”