A few weeks ago, a relative of mine was in a car wreck in Charlotte. He called me at home in Cornelius, and after panicking and then finding out that everyone was OK, I asked if they had called 911. They hadn't. I said I would call for them while they calmed down.
What followed for me was frustrating and upsetting. After multiple phone calls, being transferred, and having to explain what had happened seven times, it still took the police more than an hour to get to the scene of the wreck. In fact, family members drove from the north side of Charlotte all the way to the south side in rush hour traffic and reached the wrecked car faster than the local police did.
I called Cornelius Telecommunicator Gary Reagan to find out how I could have better handled this situation. Reagan works in the Cornelius Police Department. He told me what to do.
The first thing Reagan stressed is that 911 is for emergencies only. He has answered 911 calls from people asking for phone numbers, directions to businesses, even hours that stores are open. He said that it's “important to phone the right location. It expedites any matter you get.”
Reagan said that if you have a general report or require general information, you should call 704-892-7773. For example, to report a stop sign is down, call that number. This number works for Cornelius, Huntersville and Davidson. The telecommunicator stays on the phone until the officer is dispatched, and if it turns out to be an emergency, a car can be sent right away.
For true emergencies, Cornelius has an enhanced 911 system. In this case, it's critical to give the telecommunicator the nature of the emergency, the location and the telephone number. That way, you can get help right away.
Because of the enhanced 911 system, the telecommunicator can send calls to the fire department or to a medic. They can also send calls to Charlotte or the State Highway Patrol for wrecks on the interstates. They have contacts with agencies in Gaston, Rowan, Catawba, Lincoln and Iredell counties, as well as the railroad police.
Reagan did say that if you're “injured, just call 911. It's the fastest way to get help.”
What I learned is that what happened to me is rare. Because of the location of the wreck, there was a discrepancy as to the police jurisdiction.
The other thing I learned is that I'm still glad I live in Cornelius. The folks at the Cornelius Police Department were happy to help me. After the wreck, the car was towed from south Charlotte to Wilburn Auto Body in Cornelius. They carefully researched the cheapest and safest ways to fix the car, determined that it wasn't worth it and even tried to find us another car to replace it. They did all this work and never charged us a storage fee for the car.
I can't imagine I'd get all this help if I lived in the big city.