Everyone knows that 9-1-1 is a universal number that should be called in the event of an emergency…or do they? 9-1-1 Centers all over the United States have encountered hurdles when educating the public when it comes to the 9-1-1 and its uses. During National 9-1-1 Education month, organizations from all around the country are stepping up their efforts to educate the public on the proper use of 9-1-1.
Children and adults alike should have a good understanding of 9-1-1 and how it works in their area. Although 9-1-1 is available throughout Colorado, there are many different levels of sophistication within the equipment and resources available at each 9-1-1 answering point.
Some general guidelines for 9-1-1 use, provided by the National Emergency Numbers Association, are:
Know WHEN to call 9-1-1. 9-1-1 is for emergencies only. You should only be dialing 9-1-1 if someone is hurt or in danger, or if you are in immediate need of police, fire or medical assistance. If you aren’t sure if your situation is an emergency, you should err on the side of safety and call 9-1-1 and let the expert who answers your call make the decision whether to send help or not.
Know WHEN NOT to call 9-1-1. Don’t call 9-1-1 just because you burned dinner and your guests are arriving any minute, or because you are late for a meeting and need help finding an address. While those situations may count as emergencies for you, they aren’t public safety emergencies. Inappropriate use of the 9-1-1 system wastes resources and ties up the lines at the 9-1-1 center, and nobody wants to be on hold when they are in the middle of a real crisis. Not to mention that harassing or making prank calls to 9-1-1 is a crime, and you don’t want law enforcement showing up at your door.
Know the capabilities of the device you are using. 9-1-1 can be contacted from pretty much every device that can make phone calls (traditional landline, cell, VoIP), but the callback and location information that accompanies your call to the 9-1-1 center can vary drastically amongst technologies and between geographic regions. 9-1-1 and telecommunications professionals are hard at work to make sure 9-1-1 works the same on all devices in the future, but until then it is your job to be knowledgeable about benefits and limitations associated with various technologies. Contact your service provider(s) for more information.
Know where you are. This is probably the most important information you can provide as a 9-1-1 caller, so try to be aware of your surroundings. Make a real effort to be as detailed as possible. If you are outside and don’t know the street address, take a look around and try to find landmarks or cross streets. If you are inside a large building or one with multiple levels, you can help emergency services by letting them know which floor you are on, which apartment you are in, etc.
Stay calm. When you are on the phone with 9-1-1, you are their eyes and ears. Even though you may want to, try not to panic. If you are crying or yelling, it can be hard for the 9-1-1 operator to understand you. If you are able to stay strong, pull yourself together, and answer all of the 9-1-1 operator’s questions, they will be able to get the right services to your location more quickly.
Never hang up. You may have called 9-1-1 by accident, or your situation may have resolved itself, but it is important to let the 9-1-1 operator know this. If you end the call abruptly, the folks at the 9-1-1 center are going to assume that something has gone very wrong and will either call you back or send help anyway. This will take away from the 9-1-1 center’s ability to take calls and dispatch services to on-going emergencies, so make sure the 9-1-1 call taker tells you it is ok to disconnect before you hang up. Keep in mind that the call taker can dispatch responders to your location without disconnecting from the call, so, until you are instructed to do otherwise, make sure to hold the line so that you can provide any necessary information or assistance to the 9-1-1 operator.