Emergency Services: A Hotline to Help
By now, everyone knows to call 911 in an emergency, but not everyone knows how to properly use the 911 service. We have all heard the stories about people calling 911 for non-emergencies, like children calling 911 for homework help or irate customers calling 911 because they did not get ketchup on a fast-food burger. It seems obvious that those people do not have true emergencies, but what is a true 911 emergency? An emergency that warrants calling 911 is any situation where help is needed immediately and can be provided by law enforcement, the fire department, or emergency medical personnel. If you need a police officer, a firefighter, or an EMT, then it is time to call 911.
Furthermore, while frivolous 911 calls divert resources from people who are truly in need, if you are in doubt about whether it is appropriate to call 911, go ahead and call, then stay on the line to talk to an dispatcher. The 911 dispatcher can assess whether your situation is an emergency, and, if not, route your call to the appropriate non-emergency resource. If you hang up the call, then the dispatcher needs to call back and ascertain that there is no emergency and may even dispatch the police to check on your safety and welfare. While 911 dispatchers are happy to divert non-emergency calls to the appropriate responder, frivolous or prank calls can be dangerous and are even against the law in many states.
If you have to call 911 for emergency help, the chances are good that you will be flustered because you are dealing with an emergency situation. While 911 dispatchers are trained to deal with emergency scenarios, the calmer you can act, the quicker the dispatcher can get the appropriate help to you. The 911 dispatcher will ask you a series of questions meant to ascertain where you are, the nature of your emergency, and what type of help you require. The more information you can provide, the easier it is to get help to you. Generally, 911 dispatchers will ask you: Your name; Your phone number; Your physical address or location; To describe the emergency; And the name, ages, and number of people impacted by the emergency. It is important for all members of a household to be able to place 911 calls as soon as they are able. Children should be taught to call 911 in emergencies and what constitutes a 911 emergency, as well as memorizing the information that they will need to provide to a 911 dispatcher such as first and last name, phone number, and home address. Children should also be taught not to call 911 unless faced with a true emergency.
In addition, it can be important to provide the 911 dispatcher with additional information that could help them dispatch the appropriate first responders to the call. This type of additional information could include pertinent health history in a medical emergency, the presence of any weapons in a police emergency, or the fact that people are in a burning building in a fire emergency. The more information that you have available for the 911 dispatcher, the more prepared that first responders can be when they arrive on the scene. Furthermore, 911 dispatchers may provide you with instructions, which are important to follow in the emergency setting. 911 dispatchers have been able to help callers save lives by giving them instructions on how to respond in the emergency scenario. They may also ask you to stay on the line until first responders arrive, in order to be able to provide the first responders with as much information as possible for them to respond to the call.
One of the most critical things you can do as 911 caller is ensure that the responders can find you. While enhanced 911 routes emergency calls to the 911 dispatching center for the caller’s location and displays the phone number and address for the dispatcher, this information may not be exact. For examples, calls made from cellular phones may be able to provide the dispatcher with approximate, but not exact location information. Therefore, it is important to be able to provide the dispatcher with an address, whenever possible. Furthermore, is the address visible to first responders? Not all homes have clearly displayed house numbers; if you think the address may be difficult to locate, it is a wonderful idea to send someone to wait for the first responders whenever possible. Furthermore, if the emergency happens somewhere that does not have a physical address, helping the dispatcher locate the emergency may require providing landmarks or other identifiers, which the dispatcher can relay to the first responders who are trying to help. The quicker the first responders can locate the emergency, the more rapidly they can provide assistance.
Many people remember the time before 911, when emergency calls were handled by dialing “0” and connecting to the phone operator or required the caller to directly contact the appropriate emergency service provider. This could prove cumbersome, and, for people who were in unfamiliar locations, could provide a substantial barrier to timely access to the appropriate emergency services. AT&T began instituting the 911 program in the late 1960s. The numbers were not chosen at random, but because 911 had not previously been used as an office code, area code, or service code. It was also selected because it was easy to remember and not likely to be dialed by accident. While the 911 system was implement in local areas in the late 1960s, it did not begin to receive significant national recognition until the early 1970s, when the White House Office of Telecommunications issued a policy encouraging the nationwide adoption of the 911 service. Approximately 25% of the country was serviced by 911 by the end of the 1970s, and the 1980s saw widespread adoption of the 911 service. Canada also chose to adopt 911 as its emergency number. Currently, more than 95% of the United States has 911 emergency service.