Non-emergency phone number working, says official

To cut down calls to emergency dispatchers, Sedgwick County introduced a non-emergency number in 2011. The number is used for noise and fireworks complaints on New Year’s Eve and July 4.

It’s working, said Kim Pennington, director of emergency communications for Sedgwick County.

“I think people are starting to understand not to tie up the emergency lines,” she said.

Pennington said the call volume on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day was down “across the board” this year. Twenty-six calls – 20 fireworks complaints and six noise complaints – came in through the non-emergency number, which Pennington said was easily handled. But it can be hard to predict, she said. Last year, the line received 37 calls in all – 29 fireworks complaints and eight noise complaints.

“I think the very cold weather kept a lot of celebrators at home,” she said.

Emergency calls also were down. Between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., 449 calls were made to 911 this year, down from 504 last year, Pennington said.

Leading up to this year’s New Year celebrations, Pennington worked to get the word out about the non-emergency number through the media and at community meetings. The message?

“Treat 911 like the precious resource that it is,” she said.

The number was created following an incident on July 4, 2011. Pennington said the 911 system was so overrun with fireworks complaints that calls for help with a fatal motorcycle accident failed to get through to emergency personnel.

Now, she said, “people are able to get to the emergency assistance that they need.”

This is the third year the number has been available for non-emergency situations. Pennington said it has helped a lot, but “it’s still a work in progress.”

“It’s really hard to guess how to staff that,” she said.

While fireworks and noise complaints are appropriate instances to use the non-emergency number, celebratory gunfire should always be reported through 911, Pennington said.

“What goes up must come down,” she said. “For the most part, New Year’s Eve, drinking and guns should not be combined together.”