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Six screens times six and superpowers: One night at the E-911 call center

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Wanda Thomas works her station at the 911 call center

“Place your hand on her forehead, the other hand on her neck and tilt her head back. Look at her very carefully, OK? Can you see or hear any breathing?” Mikayla Colston asked the 911 caller the questions in a calm, measured tone.

If the words didn’t register, you would think a polite conversation was occurring.

“OK. Look at her very closely, and tell me exactly what you see her doing,” she continued.

Mikayla Colston talks a caller through an emergency situation.

On the other end of the phone, someone was experiencing what was likely one of the most stressful moments of their life. The calm, reasoned tone of the 911 operator is a trained voice designed to maximize the survival of the person being treated on the other end of the phone line.

While Colston was talking a caller through the first steps of assessing a victim, Wanda Thomas was dispatching fire, rescue and police to the scene.

Thomas was telling this reporter about a family member and stopped mid-sentence to dispatch rescuers. She picked up right where she left off after sending the first responders to the scene. Thomas explained that over the years of working at the 911 call center, she developed a superpower: She can hear conversations across the room while holding a conversation on her own and dispatching rescue units.

When things calmed down a bit, Hunter Ivey chimed in about how that superpower comes to you.

“You’ll be sitting in a restaurant, and you can hear every word said at a table across the room,” he said. “It’s weird.”

It is also a necessary skill in the call center. It combines the ability to talk calmly to the person on the line — who is often in a high-stress situation — while listening to hear if your partner dispatched the units while keeping the work atmosphere light and, as much as possible, jovial.

“OK. Stay right with her, OK? Make sure her head is tilted back and check her breathing often,” continued Colston. She was calm and assuring while she typed information on the condition of the patient into her computer. In the background, another operator was providing updates about the patient to first responders over the radio.

“I’ll stay on the line with you until help arrives,” Colston said “Tell me when the paramedics are right with her, OK?”

Walking into the main work room at the E-911 call center with all of its technology can be overwhelming. Computer screens are everywhere you look, and the amount of available information is staggering. On one screen are pending calls still being worked. On another bank of screens, you can see the views of numerous cameras set up around town. There are six work stations in the main room and each station has six screens, each designed to show information quickly as the operator juggles several tasks at once.

The operators have a script to follow that is adaptable to each situation and every input. The idea is to ensure operators ask the right questions and that a consistent set of information is gleaned on every call. Long after the call, an attorney might request the 911 tapes for a court proceeding. Having a consistent path of questions eliminates any hint of bias and ensures each caller is treated the same.

The workroom of the 911 call center looks like a Hollywood version of a war room — something straight out of a Jason Bourne movie. But it is right here in Warren County, and it provides residents with quick responses to their emergencies.

The technology is daunting, and it is constantly upgraded to ensure the stability of the system. Back up systems and backups to those backups are part of the design.

“When Katrina hit Mississippi in 2005, we learned our communications systems for emergency management were not up to standard,” said E-911 Call Center Director Shane Garrard.

Shane Garrard in his office at the 911 Call Center

Since that time, having communications centers equipped to operate during disasters has become a priority.

On this night the Police Task Force was on duty in Vicksburg. The task force, assigned by Mayor George Flaggs Jr., had a dozen officers, a watch commander and Deputy Chief Penny Jones patrolling the streets. Three 911 operators were on duty, and a fourth showed up around 8 p.m. to assist. Most of the time, one operator was working the calls. If a second call came in, the other three raced to get it. There was a lot of downtime between calls early in the evening.

“That child that I couldn’t save still sticks with me.” Vonnae Simmons said in a distant voice when asked about memorable calls. “It was a couple of years ago, but that is the call that sticks with me to this day. I can still hear the voice of the caller — their pain. It is still with me.”

The other operators continued with their duties while Simmons told her story and looked away before being asked about their memorable call.

Vonnae Simmons, Wanda Thomas, Mikayla Colston and Hunter Ivey work their stations in the 911 call center.

Thomas started picking on Ivey about nothing, and then Simmons got that smile and Colston smirked. The team works to keep the mood light, and this reporter asking dark questions was smoothly moved to the back burner.

“Get out of my ear,” Thomas said jokingly about a first responder interrupting her storytelling. She stopped talking long enough to respond to the radio message and went back to her story. “We snap, but we snap in here,” she said. “When we get those breaks we talk and joke and talk about radio traffic. It is part of it. I’m the queen of it.”

“Yep,” Ivey chimed in. “We work together. We are a team.”

At about 10:15 p.m. a call came in that required two of the operators to respond. A minute or so later, another call came in and a flurry of activity began. This team that works together was on the phone or radio non-stop. The tally board of open calls filled up quickly, and the jovial conversation turned to professional tones and dispatch talk.

“Adam 4, call dispatch. 10-4. Rescue on scene. Fire Medic 20 starting mileage is zero point zero,” could be heard among the jumble of voices.

And then, as quickly as it started up, the calls stopped and everyone had finished their tasks. The whirlwind of intense activity had lasted 45 minutes.

“That was 45 minutes?” asked Ivey. “Hmph. Didn’t realize it.”

News

Flaggs asks judges to assist in curbing crime

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Mayor George Flaggs Jr. in a May 15, 2020 interview with the Vicksburg Daily News. (Photo via video screen grab. Video by David Day)

In a letter sent to Vicksburg and Warren County judges Monday, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. asked for help to curb crime in the River City.

Flaggs wrote that crime is “running rampant” in Vicksburg, and he “prayerfully and humbly” requested the judges consider adding two criteria to bails for anyone arrested on firearm-related offenses: GPS monitoring devices and a 7 p.m. curfew.

“I believe the only exceptions to the curfew should be for travel to or from work or to seek necessary medical treatment,” the mayor wrote. “These conditions of bail will help in protecting the public from future violence and assist our law enforcement officers in reducing and preventing crimes in our city.”

He added that he believes the measures are “imperative for the safety and future of our city.”

Read the entire letter below.

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COVID-19

Mississippi’s seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases remains over 600 Monday

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Sunday and Monday saw the expected weekend drop in reported new COVID-19 cases and deaths. Mississippi’s seven-day average remains above 600.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported three new COVID-19 cases Sunday in Warren County and no new cases Monday. No new deaths were reported either day. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,470, and the county’s death toll is 53.

Statewide, MSDH reported 294 new COVID-19 cases Sunday and 296 cases Monday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 105,228. The seven-day average of new cases is 646, higher by 197 cases from a month ago.

Most new cases are seen in younger people recently, and they are more likely to survive the virus than those 65 and older. By far, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi are young people from 18 to 29 years old.

MSDH reported Sunday that five additional Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. No new deaths were reported Monday. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,101. The state’s rate of deaths to confirmed cases is about 3%.

Deaths are a lagging indicator. While July saw the highest number of new cases since the crisis began, August saw the highest number of deaths. The highest number of deaths in any one day was 67 reported Aug. 25.

MSDH reported Sunday that five deaths occurred between Oct. 5 and Oct. 10 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Sunday
Lafayette 1
Leflore 1
Marion 1
Montgomery 1
Tate 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, and Sunday, Oct. 11. MSDH usually reports statistics on the COVID-19 coronavirus each day based on the previous day’s testing and death reports.

The primary metric concerning state health officials are the numbers of people hospitalized, and that number rose steadily with the rise of new cases in July and August. On June 6, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was at 358. Hospitalizations nearly tripled by late July. They leveled off in early August and began noticeably dropping in the middle of the month including critical cases and numbers of people requiring ventilators. Hospitalizations continued to drop in September but levelled off at the middle of the month. They continued to drop through Oct. 3; however, they began showing a definite rise last week.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized for the virus as of 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, is 600, about half of the late July peak of more than 1,200. The number includes 491 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 109 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 136 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 59 were on ventilators.

Source: MSDH

MSDH has estimated the number of people who can be presumed recovered from COVID-19 in Mississippi. That number is 90,577 through Sunday, Oct. 4. This figure is updated weekly. It represents about 86% of the cumulative 105,228 cases reported Monday, Oct. 11.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Monday, Sept. 21, was 1,381, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,328, or about 90.3% of the 1,470 cumulative cases reported as of Monday, Oct. 11. The county has an estimated 89 active cases.

These estimates are based on MSDH’s guidelines for calculating estimated recoveries when hospitalizations are not known, using the number of cases 21 days ago, less known outcomes (deaths).

The total number of Mississippians tested for COVID-19 (PCR and antigen tests identifying current infections) as of Sunday, Oct. 3, is 863,957 or about 29% of the state’s 2.976 million residents. The positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average) was 6.3% Sunday according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 5%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities is 126 Monday. About 40.1%, or 1,258, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities.

A total of 25 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi and has replaced it with access to a database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can access and search the data here. The latest data available is for the week ending Sept. 27.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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Crime

Tallulah homicide suspect in custody

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Eddie Lee Jr. (photo courtesy MPSO)

The Madison Parish Sheriff’s Office continues its investigation into a Sunday afternoon homicide.

Deputies responded to a shooting at the Wyche Apartments at 218 Thomas St. in Tallulah, Louisiana, just after 2 p.m. Sunday, according to Public Information Officer Deputy Brandon Wilcher. One man was transported to the Madison Parish Hospital emergency room suffering from a gunshot wound. The man later died of his injuries.

Deputies arrested Eddie Lee Jr., 21, of Texas City, Texas, at around 10 p.m., charging him with second degree murder. He has been denied bond. Authorities are withholding the victim’s identity pending notification of family.

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