A guide to using the 911 system
What is in this article?
Problems faced by 911 telecommunicators
Never provide a phone to a child to utilize as a toy—even if the phone is no longer subscribed to an active cellular account. Unfortunately, many people provide their old cell phones to small children to play with; they don’t realize that, even though their phone can no longer make standard calls, it never loses the ability to place a 911 call. While some parents opt to simply remove the battery from a phone, providing phones as toys is not recommended.
Security panic buttons can lead to false alarms. As a standard practice, most alarm companies offer subscribers “panic buttons” on their alarm panels that let them simply hit buttons for police, fire or medical services. Generally, these buttons are a dangerous nuisance. They often are in poorly placed locations on the keypad; as a result, residents accidentally hit them when attempting to activate or disable their alarm upon their arrival or departure from their home or business. Accidents like these cause unnecessary false alarms and could result in a needless vehicle crash and injury of a first responder responding to the false alarm.
Also, children often enjoy pushing the colorfully labeled blue, red and green buttons, not realizing their actions set into motion an emergency response of many variations. While these silent panic buttons are valuable if a subscriber needs to summon assistance and is unable to speak for some reason, it always is recommended that when someone needs emergency assistance, they should pick up a phone and dial 911 to speak with a telecommunicator, rather than hitting a button on an alarm panel.
Make sure a telecommunicator can call back to a medical-alert device. Many different brands and styles of medical-alert devices are available to consumers—some are monitored by an alarm company, some ring into registered nurses, while others simply dial 911. Sometimes, these devices are worn on a necklace while others take the form of a box that sits near a phone connection. Unfortunately, there are very few regulations governing the industry that operates and programs these devices, and the results are dangerous.
Some devices utilize technology that mirrors phones that no longer are subscribed to a cellular provider. While this type of device is convenient—there often is no monthly monitoring or subscriber fees—this results in an inability for the telecommunicator to call back the individual needing assistance, which is vitally important should the call become disconnected.
Citizens who want to utilize a medical-alert device of this should make sure that telecommunicators can reconnect with the individual needing help. Units that are not monitored by an alarm company or registered nurse, or which cannot be directly called back by a telecommunicator, are not recommended.
Citizens have clear expectations of the telecommunicators who take their call at a 911 center: they want assistance as quickly as possible. However, many citizens—perhaps most—never have taken into consideration that telecommunicators also have certain expectations of the callers requesting assistance. Taking a moment to familiarize yourself with the best practices of the 911 system outlined above will allow you to meet these expectations, and ensure that your loved ones are better prepared to face an emergency—and that just might save your lives.
Bryan Wolfe began his career as a telecommunicator in 1996. He since has served the Central Indiana public-safety community in many capacities—including telecommunicator, police officer, deputy sheriff, field training officer, detective, and director of communications—and was the 7th person in the state to be certified as a communications unit leader. He can be reached at [email protected].