Chesterton Tribune



County 911 officials looking for lost call made from Porter Beach

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You feel safe knowing that they're there for you, 24/7, 365 days a year.

They are the heroes behind those responders who are there to save your home from fires and intruders.

More importantly, you find comfort in the fact that when you need help, you can just reach for the phone.

The Porter County 911 dispatching operators work around the clock with a commitment to excellence. They are trained to handle nearly every situation imaginable. It's a job where every second counts.

But even with all the diligence involved, emergency response is far from a perfect system. The first people to tell you so are those at the front of the line, like Porter County 911 Central Communications Director John Jokantas.

Case in point: a Chesterton woman takes her children to Porter Beach for an afternoon of fun. She looks away for a second, only to discover that her 4 year-old daughter is nowhere in sight. Panicking, the woman dials 911 from her cell phone and tells the operator, assuming she has reached the Porter County 911 center, of her emergency.

The woman advised she was out of breath and that she needed to rest for a second. At this point, the operator was no longer on the line and the woman thought she had been hung up on, an egregious action for a 911 operator.

Fortunately, the woman found her daughter unharmed minutes after she made the call, but no emergency vehicles ever showed up.

What may be more perplexing is that even though the call was made within Porter County, the Porter County 911 center has no number in its recording database from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. that matches the woman's cell phone. The call was made at 4:02 p.m., Tuesday, July 1.

Jokantas and his assistant director of administration, C.J. Wittmer, said they asked all personnel on duty that afternoon if they had received the call. After learning they had not, Jokantas and Wittmer searched the wireless INDigital system for Porter County and found no trace of an inbound call from the woman's phone.

“The only issue that is still out there is where did the phone call go. Someone for sure answered her 911 call, but we don't know who or where,” Jokantas said.

Could the call have been dropped because of bad reception? Could it have been picked up by another agency in the ethereal? Jokantas tells the Chesterton Tribune, “these types of things happen all the time” when it comes to 911 calls coming from mobile devices.

The reason a call could get bumped to an agency outside Porter County is that there are different cell sites along county lines. Towers sitting on those lines can push a 911 call to Lake, LaPorte or Jasper counties, and vice versa to Porter County, Jokantas said.

Calls to 911 made from cell phones “triangulate” to find the best signal and then are sent to that agency, he said. If most of the tower's signal is in Porter County, it is likely to get pushed to the county’s 911 center.

Beaches especially are areas where calls could be diverted elsewhere, Jokantas said.

“Being on the beach with open water, there is no telling where that call is going to go,” he said.

When a call from an outside county comes into the Porter County 911 Center, Jokantas said it is customary for the operator to connect the caller with the correct agency, a routine that is common practice across the nation.

Jokantas said he and his team work with the cell phone companies continually to improve getting calls to where they are needed, but ultimately the system cannot be 100 percent perfect, at least not in the foreseeable future.

“Radio systems can be imperfect at times, so there is a chance that no matter how much we do to improve the system, a cell phone call could still get routed to the wrong agency,” Jokantas said.

Smart911 - a solution?

But there is something citizens who use cell phones can do to better protect themselves, Jokantas said, and it won’t cost you anything other than a few moments of your time.

Porter County offers Smart911, in which residents can create their own safety profile for both users of cell phones and land line phones. A profile would contain important information about an individual and/or members of their household such as medical conditions, number of children, pictures and any other related information that could aid in a rescue.

One of the problems with cell phones as opposed to land lines, Jokantas said, is that when a cell phone call comes in, the caller is not ID’d and there is no exact address or location.

These are things that can be made known to the 911 operator if the person has signed up with Smart911.

The information remains confidential and is only available to emergency responder when a call comes in from a registered number.

“You can put as much or as little information in your profile (as you choose), however, at least we will have an address to go by if you do call 911 and cannot speak,” said Jokantas.

The web address to create a Smart911 profile is

County 911 employees will also be on hand at the Porter County Fair this month informing residents of the free service and helping them get signed up.


Posted 7/8/2014