Over the past 6 months or so that I have been learning this job and taking calls, I have found that folks generally don’t have a real good idea of what happens when they are calling 911. Now, after seeing things from “the other side”, I get that. I wouldn’t have known anything about calling 911 either – you just push the buttons “9-1-1” on your phone, and somehow help magically arrives at your door. (Ok, I knew it wasn’t quite that easy. 🙂 )
But there is a little more to it than that.
There are ways you can actually help the 911 dispatcher get help to you faster, and things callers do that really slow down the whole process considerably.
So here’s a few ideas of what to do (or not do) when you are calling 911 – don’t worry, I’ll make it real clear which is which. 🙂
These will deal with what we need to talk about first – WHERE YOU ARE:
- DO tell me your location, ASAP. Lots of folks will automatically do that, and I appreciate it. Some people start off with telling me their name – that’s nice and all, but what I need to know first off is WHERE YOU ARE. We can get around to introductions a little later in the call.
- If you call from a cell phone, remember that I don’t know where you are. On my screen I see a latitude and longitude for your location, but no house number and no street. Please be clear about where you are – the more exact, the better. If you are calling from a landline I will get an exact address due to the Enhanced 911 system, but a cell phone will not give me an exact address automatically. You need to provide that for me.
- Be ready to tell me your house number and street name. That’s best – again, the more specific you are the faster I can get help to you. If you don’t know the exact address of where you are, then tell me what street you are on and what is the nearest cross street. Landmarks work well, too; “across from the Safeway store on Lancaster”, “on the corner next to the Wells Fargo bank”, etc. If I can get that, I can get them headed in the right direction. Then I will ask you questions to help describe to the first responders how far you are from that intersection and in what direction, what side of the street you are on, color and description of the house, etc.
- DON’T immediately start dumping information at me. I need to enter information into our CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system in a certain way for the first responders. If you overload me with too much information right at the start of the call, it slows down the process. Let me ask the questions in the order I need to get the information. It’s just easier that way, and faster in the long run. Less confusion, too.
- When you call me, DON’T SHOUT! This is especially true when you are on a cell phone – they tend to distort when you speak louder, so try to speak in a normal voice. I know that you probably have a lot of adrenaline pumping through your veins at that moment, but try to stay as calm as possible – this allows me to better help you since I can get information from you more easily.
Right up there with where you are, I need to know what’s going on. Some people may think that’s the crucial piece of most importance. I say it’s in the top two – but if I had to choose between WHERE YOU ARE and WHAT’S HAPPENING, I choose to know where. Cuz if I know what’s happening, but not where – I am not much use to you – I can’t send help to an unknown location. If I know where, but not what – well, I can at least start by sending law enforcement and a medic, to “cover my bases.” I guess my thought is that it’s better to send too much help than too little right off the bat; you can always “recall” an engine or a deputy while they are en route.
Next post – how to tell me what’s going on. 🙂