ATLANTA — Calling 911 in Georgia is currently a game of roulette: you might get a medically-trained dispatcher or you might not.
It all depends which 911 center answers the call.
That’s because training to give CPR instructions over the phone is not required for Georgia dispatchers. More than half of 911 centers in the state don’t offer CPR or Emergency Medical Dispatch pre-arrival instructions to emergency callers, as first revealed by 11Alive.
Senate Bill 505 is currently pending in the Georgia House of Representatives, after it was passed unanimously by the Senate. After passing out of a House sub-committee on Tuesday, the bill is expected to pass the full Public Safety Committee on Thursday.
If the bill doesn’t make it to the House floor by Monday, it will die.
The measure introduced by Sen. Randy Robertson would not only require dispatchers to get Telecommunicator-CPR training, it would also mandate annual continuing education. The senator wants to make sure “that first individual that picks up that phone during an emergency has all of the tools in their toolkit they need to help that citizen,” Robertson said.
The Reveal investigators discovered Georgia requires hair stylists to get 37-times more training than 911 dispatchers. The basic course for dispatchers is 40 hours, while hair stylists need 1,500 hours for a state permit.
As part of his investigation last year, 11Alive Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe obtained internal emails from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. They showed the reason the airport’s 911 center didn’t allow dispatchers to give CPR instructions over the phone was that the state didn’t require such a program.
Thomas Lawson was one of at least 38 people to die from cardiac events at the world’s busiest airport of a two-and-a-half year period, according to The Reveal investigation.
Previous iterations of the bill failed to advance, but began to pass with unanimous support from both sides of the aisle after 2021’s series of investigations by 11Alive.
“It shouldn’t matter where you live,” said Laura Bracci with the American Heart Association, the organization pushing the bill. “You should be able to call 911 and know that you’re going to have someone trained to provide you with the care that you need."
The only pushback against the bill has been from smaller 911 centers where directors are concerned the training would be a burden for their tiny staffs. The American Heart Association points out that there are free training resources, and T-CPR requires just two to three hours of annual training.
The director of the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, C.G. Wigginton, testified in favor of the bill, but successfully pushed for a delay in its implementation. Wigginton told 11Alive that the state academy has only one trainer for 911 dispatchers statewide, and the certification program was not funded when it was created by the General Assembly.
“T-CPR will save lives,” Wigginton said, “but we can not do this without the proper funding.”