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"9-1-1 Emergency - What are you reporting?"

Let's hope you don't have to hear those words very often.....

In the United States, 9-1-1 is the telephone number to call to report an emergency in MOST locations. Some areas still don't have 3-digit access to Law Enforcement, Fire or Emergency Medical Services, and you will have to dial the 7-digit telephone number for assistance, or "0" for Operator, to be connected to a Public Safety agency.

If you have ever watched the TV program RESCUE 9-1-1, you may get the impression that EVERYONE, everywhere, has 9-1-1 and the dispatcher can determine the location from which you are calling. This is, unfortunately, not the case. Nor are you necessarily going to be provided instructions on how to perform CPR, as not all agencies provide that kind of training for their 9-1-1 personnel.

What you WILL get, if you ever call 9-1-1, is a dedicated Public Safety professional who will do everything he or she can to get you the appropriate assistance for the situation in which you find yourself.

Now, there aren't an unlimited number of incoming 9-1-1 lines, nor are there unlimited numbers of people to answer these calls. Please use 9-1-1 ONLY to report situations which need RAPID response of Public Safety personnel and equipment, such as any "in-progress" crime, a medical emergency, a fire, a traffic accident, a drunk driver you see NOW (not after you got home and thought about telling us about it), or other similar incidents.

Cats stuck in trees, a citation you've received, questions about what's going on in your neighborhood where all the emergency equipment is gathered, vandalism you've just discovered and is no longer in progress (like finding your trees toilet-papered on Halloween), are NOT appropriate incidents to report through 9-1-1. Nor is complaining about a loud party in your neighborhood....

I've been in the Public Safety Communications field since 1977, and boy, do I have some dillies of stories to tell about calls made to 9-1-1 that irritated the heck out of me and my co-workers. I belong to a large group of Public Safety communications personnel from all over the nation who get together on-line every week to share our experiences; we have discovered this problem exists anywhere anyone can dial 9-1-1.

Of course, we also have plenty of experience with absolutely appropriate uses of 9-1-1.

9-1-1 Dispatch Centers are often in basements of local government buildings. Most, even if they are on the ground level, do NOT have windows to the outside world. You would be surprised at the tasks dispatchers handle during their shifts. They don't JUST answer phones. However, your particular call may be handled by someone other than the person at the radio who actually talks to the responding personnel.

At the end of this article, I'll provide you with some great public education Internet Links to information on 9-1-1, but just to start, here are a few tips:

In some areas, your call to 9-1-1 may be answered right at the location from where the appropriate agency is directly dispatched. We call these "consolidated" Public Safety Answering Points. If you live near a police or fire station or ambulance company, don't imagine that the person answering the 9-1-1 line is actually sitting in that building. I don't know how many times I've heard "I'm just down the street from you." On the other hand, you may be in an area where your call may need to be transferred to a different dispatch center that handles the particular agency which will respond to your incident.

(And if the incident you're reporting is near one of these stations, let me warn you: the police are generally on patrol on their beats, NOT lounging about in the station, waiting only until you call about YOUR incident. The question "What's taking them so long? It's just around the corner from the station!" is just not valid. Those officers could be miles away on another call, and there are only so many of them, too.)

Stay on the phone with the call-taker and answer all his/her questions, if you can. The information you provide will assist the responding police, fire-fighters, or medical personnel. YOU are there, they are NOT; you will be the eyes and ears for them until help arrives. You may not understand the rationale behind some of these questions, but they aren't asked for their entertainment value, they're necessary questions.

If you're using a cellular phone to make your call to 9-1-1, KNOW WHERE YOU ARE! There is no way for us to track your location! If you have a cellular phone, please learn the telephone number; we may need to re-contact you, especially if it's a bad connection and we get disconnected.

If you're calling from a large metropolitan area, you may have to wait a while before the call is answered by a real, live person. This is the unfortunate reality: there are lots of people out there who misuse 9-1-1 and that ties up lines until the call-takers can wade through all the calls coming in at the same time.

Back to that "Rescue 9-1-1" program -- the anonymous person who takes your call and handles it to completion has a vested interest in YOUR well-being. Quite often, we have to hang up and go right on to the next call without any sense of "closure" about what's just happened. The producers of that TV program welcome the opportunity to recognize the personnel, including the dispatchers, who've been involved in successful "rescues." It's a wonderful experience to actually meet a person whose life we've impacted in a positive way under negative circumstances. Many people compliment the field personnel out there on the scene, but the "behind the scenes" dispatcher can be easily overlooked....

Yet, 9-1-1 dispatchers are truly the "first responders" to any incident reported by telephone. Nowadays, it's a highly technical job.

Happy to be here, proud to serve!

Linda Olmstead,

Communications Supervisor

Here are those links I promised you:

These links are from Canada....
911 checklist
911 Frequent ?
(also from Canada) for Kids about 9-1-1 A
Kids and 911
Info on a video program to educate Kids about 9-1-1 A
Baldwin County, Alabama, great page about how to use 9-1-1

Back to The San Diego Medical Dispatch.



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