‘9-1-1. What’s your emergency?’If you don’t have an emergency, you probably should call someone else
By Jade McDowell
of The Chronicle
If you are on the phone and hear “9-1-1, what is your emergency?” the correct answer is never going to be “I don’t have an emergency, but…”
As the weather warms up and school lets out, misuse of the 9-1-1 emergency number increases, tying up the phone lines and preventing attention to real emergencies.
“If you know it is not an emergency, then you should be looking up phone numbers or calling Information,” said local dispatcher Zoe Middleton. “Remember you are tying up an emergency line when someone with a true emergency may be trying to call us.”
She said an emergency is an event in progress requiring immediate attention of medical, fire or law enforcement professionals. Examples include a heart attack, serious injury, fire, car accident or burglary in progress.
However, there are plenty of times when 9-1-1 should not be called. A person should think about whether or not there is an immediate danger. If a few extra minutes won’t make a difference, 9-1-1 is the wrong number to use. For example, it is usually inappropriate to call 9-1-1 for information, a ride to an appointment or for an officer to come “scare” a little child into doing their chores.
Usually if the caller is not making a prank call they are let off with a warning the first time, but misuse of an emergency number is a crime. A man from Aloha recently spent the night in jail after calling 9-1-1 to complain about a rude McDonald’s employee.
“If a person continues to call us without an emergency, we will charge them,” Middleton said.
It is also a crime to intentionally give false information to emergency services.
She said if someone accidentally calls 9-1-1 they shouldn’t panic and hang up. It is important for the person to stay on the line and explain the mistake so dispatchers don’t waste time trying to find out whether or not there is actually an emergency.
Sometimes small children will inadvertently call 9-1-1 when their parents give them their old cell phone to play with, thinking the phone is safe if it is deactivated and doesn’t have a memory card. The best way to ensure the child will not reach 9-1-1 is to take out the battery completely.
“Even when they don’t have service, they can still dial 9-1-1,” Jennifer Spino, another local dispatcher, said. “If they are charged, they will call 9-1-1.”
When a person does call with a legitimate emergency they need to be able to give dispatchers as exact a location as possible. Dispatchers will be able to trace a call from a landline, but many callers now use cell phones, which don’t give an exact address. New phones equipped with GPS can give dispatchers a general area, but they rely on callers to be able to give them an exact location.
If there are multiple people around, the person with the best knowledge of the location should call. It also helps to have someone waiting outside to guide emergency workers to the exact spot.
For this reason, parents should make sure babysitters know their street address, phone number and full names. Posting this and other important contact information by the phone is always a good idea.
Parents should also teach their children the information as soon as they are old enough to understand it. Adults should emphasize calling 9-1-1 is only for an emergency and then go over what types of situations would count as an emergency. The number should always be referred to as “nine-one-one” instead of “nine-eleven.”
“Kids always follow what it is you teach them, so they will look for an 11 on the phone,” Middleton said.
While on the phone it is important to stay calm, she said. Yelling and screaming and does not make help arrive any faster. It also distorts the sound, making it harder for dispatchers to get the information they need. Sometimes the questions they ask may seem unimportant, but 9-1-1 dispatchers are trained professionals and know what information emergency responders need most.
Dispatchers will not diagnose symptoms or give medical advice, but they can help walk a person through needed emergency treatments such as CPR or delivering a baby. They will stay on the phone as long as they are needed, usually until help arrives in the case of medical emergencies.
The 9-1-1 system in the United States was put into place in 1968. The National Emergency Number Association estimates about 240 million 9-1-1 calls are placed each year.
The Dalles Police Station: (541) 296-2233 (nonemergency request officer), (541) 296-2613 (police office)
Wasco County Sheriff/Animal Control: (541) 296-5454
Fire Department: (541) 298-4178
Mid Columbia Medical Center: (541) 296-1111
Poison Control: (800) 222-1222
General Information: 4-1-1
I love this! It's a fantastic article and when we get home I'm going to post our local information. Anything that helps!