Imagine calling 911, only to receive a busy signal or an automated voice saying that all circuits are busy. Officials said Monday during a Barbour County Commission meeting they worry that might happen if citizens continue using the emergency number to voice complaints about nonemergency issues.
Office of Emergency Management Director Cindy Hart said she answered 350 calls about address change complaints on Monday alone.
County commissioners also said many complaints are coming in to the Barbour County Courthouse about the address changes.
Hart said many of the calls to the Barbour County Communications Center have come in on the emergency number, with citizens dialing 911 to complain about their addresses being changed.
Abuse of the 911 emergency phone line could result in criminal penalties, though Hart said no one has been charged.
"911 is taking a big hit on this," Hart said. "It is ridiculous. It's minute things that they're making these big deals over."
Some of the calls are about the costs of changing an address, Hart said, adding that these complaints could be tying up the emergency lines and preventing someone who is in need of immediate medical assistance from getting a timely and efficient response.
Hart said changing one's address could be as simple as paying $5 for a new identification card or a driver's license, or otherwise waiting to change that information once the card has expired and needs to be renewed. She said it could also simply mean that a person will have to take some time to fill out a form on the back of a billing statement that provides the company with an updated address.
"(The Barbour County Communications Center) has zero authority to change their mailing addresses (back)," Hart said, adding that the 911 address and mapping is a state-mandated project that county authorities cannot stop. "We get blamed for a lot of it because it's 911 that is attached to the name. This has been in the works since 2004 in this county."
Hart said the address changes are meant to prevent confusion and help reduce emergency response time. She said two roads in the same zip code should not have the same or similar names, because this creates confusion when emergency responders are trying to respond in an efficient manner to a life-threatening situation. Some road names in Barbour County have had to be changed, she said.
William Iddings, a county resident, asked what would happen if a 4-year-old dials 911 because something happened to his or her mother. Iddings said the address changes are a way to allow responders to easily find a person's home, even in those situations. Rural route numbers are part of an old system that could confuse emergency responders about where they actually need to go.
"People resist change; it's that simple," Iddings said. "This is one of the best things that you folks are doing. I'm serious about this. Change is tough, and people are going to fuss."
Hart said she would prepare a press release for media outlets at a later date to further address this issue. Hart and the commissioners said complaints should be made to the Barbour County Commission at 304-457-4339, not the county Communications Center.