EMA director talks 911 and 988 with Lions Club

Published 10:10 am Thursday, February 8, 2024

VALLEY — Jessica Yeager has helped lots of people in her 18 years with the Chambers County Emergency Agency (EMA). Being in that role has helped her, too.

“I am passionate about helping others,” she told members of the Valley Lions Club at their Monday meeting. “It’s helped me overcome depression.”

Yeager has been the county’s EMA director for the past five years. She’s upbeat about the potential 988 has in Chambers County. She explained that the 988 Lifeline network of more than 200 crisis centers has been in operation since 2005 and has been proven effective over a wide area. 

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“Trained crisis counselors listen, provide support and connect callers to resources when appropriate,” she said.

Callers who follow the “press 1” prompt are connected to the Veterans Crisis Line. A Spanish language line is available by pressing 2. More than 240 languages are supported through a Tele-Interpreters service. Callers also have the option of a press 3 prompt to talk to a crisis counselor who has been trained to speak to LGBTQI+ callers.

“Numerous studies have shown that callers feel less suicidal, less depressed and less overwhelmed after speaking with a 988 Lifeline crisis counselor,” Yeager said.

Yeager is from a family that’s committed to public service. Her husband is a patrol commander for the Opelika Police Department and their daughter Hannah was recently hired as a deputy with the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office. She will attend the police academy this year.

Yeager talked about planning to attend a 911 Users Conference in April. 

“It will be hosted by the Alabama 911 Board,” she said. “At the conference, we will learn how we can integrate 988 into what’s known as Public Safety Answering Point, or PSAP.”

The 988 Lifeline is much easier to contact than it used to be. It was previously reached at 1-800-273-8255. That number remains in service to anyone in emotional distress and who may be contemplating suicide. In addition to being much easier to remember, the three-digit dialing code of 988 immediately routes callers to a professional counselor. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all across the U.S.

Yeager discussed a grant that has been approved for Chambers County. A hazard mitigation program administered by FEMA has approved a grant that will provide some 2,345 weather radios, more than 7,000 batteries and 150 strobe bundles to go with the weather radios. These radios will be distributed to those who are vision or hearing impaired, homebound or a senior citizen on a fixed income. This is being made available through a grant of more than $70,000, ninety percent of which is federally funded.

“The programming of these radios will be done by the organizations distributing the radios,” Yeager said. “We hope to complete the programming and distribution by the end of March. This will be before the height of tornado season.”

Yeager told members of the club that Chambers County 911 had a busy year in 2023. Almost 30,000 inbound 911 calls were received at the local 911 center, located near the intersection of Highway 50 and Phillips Road in Huguley. Just under 90,000 administrative in and outbound calls took place. 911 texting is new to Chambers County. More than 1,600 of these came to the 911 center in 2023. A total of 4,647 minutes were used on the center’s language line.

More than 200 new 911 addresses were added in Chambers County last year. That’s an indication of population growth.

“We are blessed to have the kind of facility and the equipment we do,” Yeager said. “We’ve been in this building for eight years now. It opened in 2016.”

People said that EMA personnel from the two-state area see Chambers County as a model to follow in the way of emergency preparedness. 

“People from other counties come here a lot to see what we have done and to get ideas on what they can do in their counties,” Yeager said. 

She attributes the new facility to the foresight of the EMA board. 

“It took several years of saving funds to build this,” she said. “It’s a well-secured building. Much of it is under 18 inches of concrete.”

Chambers County EMA is very good at sending frequent updates on weather conditions such as stormy weather being on the way, wind advisories, freeze alerts and the possibility of flooding.

Yeager will be representing Alabama’s rural 911 districts at an upcoming symposium at Jacksonville State University. 

“It will be an honor for me to be there,” she said. “It will be for the Southeastern U.S. region. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) will be hosting a program that’s designed to raise awareness of the 911 cyber threat environment and to identify the tools, frameworks and solutions that are available to combat it. A new CR911 can help identify and address near-term needs of the 911 community and stakeholder-driven cybersecurity priorities.”