Joy Magazine

The 411 on 911

Most people in the united states know about 911. They know that the emergency response system has aided in saving lives, putting out fires and stopping criminals. However, many people still use 911 improperly.

The response system was established to help people in emergency situations. Any call that is a non-emergency has the potential for preventing others from getting the help they need. According to Kevin Harris, assistant director of Southern Oregon Regional Communications (SORC), a 911 dispatch center, during times of high-volume calls, not every caller will be able to reach a dispatcher on the first try. "We have a limited number of 911 lines and subsequent callers can get a busy signal," Harris explains.

When to Call 911

• Life-threatening situations

• Medical emergencies

• Crimes in progress

• Fire

• Motor vehicle accidents causing personal injury or severe damage

• Hazardous chemical spills

• Downed and hazardous electrical lines

When NOT to Call 911

• Report theft or vandalism when the suspect is already gone

• Power outage

• Telephone outage

• Cable TV outage

• Plumbing problems

• Animal control

• Inquire about school openings

• Ask for the time of day

• Complain about an annoying neighbor

• Ask for directions

• Find out if someone is in jail

JoLayne Fulmer, the operations supervisor at Rogue Valley Consolidated Communications (RVCCOM), another 911 dispatch center, states that they get people calling for all sorts of reasons: power outages, to inquire about the time of day, or to complain about a neighbor. Fulmer recalls, "One time, we thought this woman was in real trouble. She sounded awful. We could hear her crying throughout the house. It turns out, her toilet was overflowing."

Cell phones also pose a problem for dispatch centers. "We get accidental calls from cell phones all the time," says Harris. To avoid accidentally dialing 911, make sure the cell phone keypads are locked when not in use. Educate children about 911. Don't let them play with the telephone or out-of-service cell phones. "Even if a cell phone is out of service, if it has a charged battery, it can still dial 911," says Harris.

In instances of a true emergency, there are several things a caller should do. First, know the location of the emergency. "Our system only pinpoints people's location to within 400 feet." Harris adds, "If a caller is on an interstate or in a rural area, they should go to the nearest mile marker, mailbox or intersection. If they are in a building, they should tell us what floor they are on. We need to know where they are."

Second, try to remain calm. Fulmer says that one difficulty dispatchers face is trying to calm hysterical callers. "They just want help, and they want it now. But something that a lot of callers don't understand is that by the time they call, help is already on the way," she says.

Third, listen to the dispatcher and follow instructions. "The most important thing for a caller to do is to follow the directions of the dispatcher and answer any questions the best he can," Harris explains. "We ask questions for a reason. It helps us evaluate what needs to be done," adds Fulmer.

According to Fulmer, 911 dispatchers must undergo rigorous training. They train for months learning about public safety, emergency medical dispatching, first aid, CPR, weapons of mass destruction and other hazardous situations. "Dispatchers are well prepared to answer your call," says Fulmer. "The key thing for a caller to do, even if they feel out of control, is to really listen to the 911 dispatcher," adds Fulmer.

According to Harris, a dispatcher will also instruct you on how to prepare for the arrival of an emergency response unit. It may include turning on the porch lights, putting away pets, gathering pertinent medication information and meeting the emergency response team at the end of the driveway.

All 911 callers should remember the following: Dial 911 only in emergency situations. Know the location of the emergency. Try to remain calm. Listen to the dispatcher and follow instructions. And if necessary, prepare for the arrival of an emergency response unit.


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