April 8-14 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, a chance to appreciate the unsung heroes who serve our communities answering and dispatching 911 calls.
2018 is especially significant as it marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 call:
"[O]n November 8, 1967, House Congressional Resolution 361 was adopted: “The United States should have one uniform nationwide fire reporting telephone number…and police reporting telephone number."
"[I]n Haleyville, Alabama, on February 16, 1968, U.S. Rep. Tom Donald Fike Bevill became the first individual in the United States to answer a 911 emergency phone call. Rep. Bevill answered the call from inside the Haleyville Police Station – where this jurisdiction had unwittingly set up the first Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP)."
According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), “…an estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 in the U.S. each year. In many areas, 80% or more are from wireless devices.”
Calling 911: Best Practices
When you call 911, an EMS dispatcher with specialized training will answer the call. The dispatcher will ask for basic information, such as the type of emergency, location, the number and conditions of those who are ill or injured and what care is being provided. Answer the dispatcher’s questions as clearly as possible, and only hang up if directed to do so by the dispatcher.
NENA suggests following these best practices whenever calling 911:
When to call: An emergency is any serious situation where a law enforcement officer, fire fighter or emergency medical help is needed right away. If you are unsure of whether your situation is an emergency, go ahead and call 911.
If you call 911 by mistake, do not hang up the phone: Stay on the line until you can tell the call-taker that you called by accident and there is no emergency. This saves the call-taker from having to call you back and confirm there is no emergency, or possibly sending police to check your address for an emergency.
Do your best to stay calm and answer all questions: The questions 911 call takers ask, no matter how irrelevant they seem, are important in helping get the first responders to you as fast as possible.
Know the location of the emergency: The wireless 911 caller must be aware that the 911 center that answers the call may not be the 911 center that services the area that the wireless caller is calling from. Look for landmarks, cross street signs and buildings. Know the name of the city or county you are in.
Teach your children how to call 911: Be sure they know what 911 is, how to dial from your home and cell phone and to trust the 911 call-taker. Make sure your child is physically able to reach at least one phone in your home. When calling 911 your child needs to know their name, parent’s name, telephone number and, most importantly, their address. Be sure all members of your household are aware that prank or harassing calls to 911 will be dealt with by local law enforcement agencies.
To all the 911 call-takers, thank you for all you do to help make our workplaces and communities safer.