I-Team investigates emergency call confusion

Imagine witnessing a possible emergency, but 911 doesn't know where you are or who should handle it?
April 29, 2014 5:43:40 PM PDT
Imagine witnessing what you think is an emergency, but 911 doesn't know where you are or who should handle it?

It happened recently to me.

I drive the new Triangle Expressway every day, and recently I called 911 to report an emergency. However, it didn't go very well, and it exposed a problem with new roads, jurisdictions, and the dispatchers who have to make split-second, life-saving decisions.

Wake Co. Operator: "911, what's your emergency?"

Diane: "Hi, I'm driving on the Triangle Expressway, like the 147 going towards 540."

At 5:54 p.m., I called 911 because I saw a man leaning off a bridge over the expressway.

Diane: "I don't know if this man is doing anything, like trying to commit suicide."

I decided to call, just in case, and that's where the trouble began.

Diane: "I was on 147. I just passed Hopson Road."

Wake Co. Operator: "Okay, coming from Durham, and it was before Hopson?"

Diane: "No, it was right after Hopson."

After a minute or so explaining where I was on the new stretch of road, the Wake County operator told me she had it. However, after I got home -- 14 minutes after my initial call -- I got a call back from a Durham County dispatcher.

Durham Co. Operator: "I'm calling in reference to the call that you called in. The location that you gave for us -- Hopson Road doesn't cross 147."

But it does! A quick Google map search shows that Hopson crosses right over 147, and is part of the Triangle Expressway.

Durham Co. Operator: "You had gotten on the toll road."

Diane: "Yeah. I'm on the toll road already."

Durham Co. Operator: "Okay, that's not ours anyways, okay."

That call ended, and about ten minutes later -- 25 minutes after I first called 9-1-1 -- I got another call from Wake County.

Wake Co. Operator: "OK, the thing is that there's not a Hopson exit off of 540 anywhere."

Diane: "I know. That's why I'm saying I call it the Triangle Expressway. There is a Hopson Road exit. I pass it every single day. I have to pay to get on it so it's before the 540."

Wake Co. Operator: "OK, there's North Carolina 540. That's a toll road, and then the, the ... The only part that's a toll road is North Carolina 540, which also takes you to Apex."

This dispatcher thought only N.C. 540 was a toll road, but they've also been taking tolls on this stretch of 147 for more than two years. 

Then there's the jurisdiction issue. The man I saw was on the Kit Creek Road Bridge, which is just over the line into Wake County. Hopson Road is still in Durham County, which I didn't really grasp as I was trying to call in the emergency. Unfortunately, neither dispatcher, despite having maps and computers right in front of them, was able to help me.

And, after all the confusion and phone calls, what happened to the man on the bridge? No one knows. Wake County says they didn't go, but told me Highway Patrol may have been asked to respond for them. But, HP confirms that they didn't go, and neither did Durham County.

The deputy director for Wake County 911 told ABC11 that they're familiar with that small part of Highway 147 in Wake County, but they rarely get calls there. So the dispatchers may not be as familiar with it as other roadways in Wake County.


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