When a citizen recognizes an emergency and calls 911 from any location within Whatcom County, they are immediately connected to a dispatcher at the What-Comm 911 dispatch center located in Bellingham.
Once the dispatcher answers “911”, they will determine whether the caller needs a police, fire, or medical response.
Calls requiring fire or medical responses are immediately transferred to the Prospect Fire Dispatch Center.The dispatcher will tell the caller “Please hold while I transfer you to fire dispatch”. The caller will hear a few clicks and another ring as the call is transferred.
For calls requiring police responses, the What-Comm 911 center is the primary answering point for all 911 calls placed in Whatcom County. What-Comm dispatches law enforcement for the cities of Bellingham, Ferndale, Everson, Nooksack, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s office and Nooksack Tribal and Lummi Nation Police. Residents of the cities of Blaine, Lynden and Sumas who call 911 will be transferred to the United States Border Patrol dispatch center in Blaine. That operator will then send the local police from Blaine, Lynden, or Sumas. Border Patrol dispatch center’s role is limited to routing the 911 calls to the police departments in Blaine, Lynden, and Sumas. Calls requiring other agencies, such as the Washington State Patrol, WWU Police, Coast Guard, or other police departments outside of Whatcom County are transferred appropriately.
Annually, What-Comm dispatchers receive and make more than 335,000 calls. As our population increases every year, so do the number of calls for service. In addition to emergent police-related calls, What-Comm handles after-hours animal related calls for the Whatcom Humane Society. What-Comm also handles other emergent notifications to agencies such as PSE (Puget Sound Energy), phone companies, and the local Department of Emergency Management, among others.
What happens when I call 911 for the Police?
When you call 911 from a “land line” telephone in Whatcom County, the address and the phone number is automatically displayed on our computers. It is important to remember that cell phones do not display the actual address of the call. Also, cell phones may not connect to 911 as fast as land lines so be patient and wait for the dispatcher to answer. Whether using a cell phone or land line, the dispatcher will need to verify the location of the emergency. It is critical to provide accurate information.
What-Comm dispatchers are specially trained to carefully question each caller to determine the type, urgency, and location of the emergency. If you are reporting an in-progress emergency, dispatchers will continue to ask important questions while other dispatchers send help. You are not delaying a response by staying on the phone. If you are reporting a non-emergency, you may be placed on hold while the dispatcher handles other emergent calls. If you are placed on hold, do not hang up and call back unless it is unsafe for you to remain on the phone
All What-Comm dispatchers are cross-trained to answer 911 lines and dispatch the police. The information you provide to the initial dispatcher is entered into a computer aided dispatching system (CAD). CAD then routes the call to the appropriate law enforcement dispatcher for that jurisdiction. The dispatcher for that jurisdiction will then relay the information over a radio to law enforcement units in the field.
Important 911 tips
- Keep your address and phone number posted near every phone in your house. It is very stressful during an emergency and it is very easy to forget your address. By posting this information, you as well as any visitors at your home can dial 911 and get help quickly.
- Speak clearly and calmly at all times. Do not yell into the phone.
- Listen closely to the questions and try to answer all the questions that are asked by the dispatcher. Something that might not seem important to you now could be very important later.
Kids and 911
- Make sure kids of all ages know how to use 9-1-1. Help your children learn their address and phone number at an early age.
- Teach children to dial 9-1-1 only in an emergency.
- If 9-1-1 is dialed by mistake, please stay on the line and let the dispatcher know there is no problem and it was a dialing error.
- Teach children to call 9-1-1 if they feel they need help. Help your children learn the difference between a true emergency and a non-emergency call.