September is National Preparedness Month. While much of our focus will be on preparedness for disasters, we often tend to forget the day to day incidents and emergencies we face.
Here’s five facts everyone should know about 9-1-1 and what you can do to help 9-1-1 respond more effectively to your emergency.
1. There is no national 9-1-1 center. 9-1-1 in the United States is actually comprised of approximately 6,400 local public safety answering points (PSAP) spread across the country. Your 9-1-1 call is routed to the appropriate public safety answering point (PSAP), which then dispatches the right resources, based on your location. Locally, there may be different centers that handle different types of emergencies (e.g. Medical calls vs Police calls). Your call may get transferred between centers during the course of your call. Don’t get frustrated if you have to repeat some information.
2. 9-1-1 works differently for different types of phones. The PSAP gets different location information from each type of phone. Mobile phones deliver their current location (technologies to do this vary based on the carrier and the accuracy varies wildly based on local conditions), VOIP phones deliver the address under which the device was registered (warning: Moving phones can cause mis-routing), and landline phones display the address of the building into which the phone is connected. Remember that the 9-1-1 call taker, known in the industry as telecommunicators, will have to ask information about your location. If you are calling from a mobile phone, it is helpful to be aware of your location and surroundings.
3. 9-1-1 call takers will work through a series of very scripted questions. It is common to be frustrated by the questions you are asked when you call 9-1-1. Don’t worry. These questions are not preventing help from being sent. Responders are usually already dispatched while these questions are still being asked. Scripted protocols are very common and help the 9-1-1 call taker discern critical information such as the location and type of incident, calm the caller, and even walk the caller through emergency procedures like CPR. Although the may seem tedious, the scripted questions help ensure a speedy and consistent process.
4. Except for limited coverage areas, you can’t text-to-911. Texting to 9-1-1 is being slowly rolled out across the country, but it is always best to call 9-1-1. Even if texting is available, calling 9-1-1 is always best because telecommunicators can more quickly and efficiently gather information, and can also use auditory information to help dispatch more effectively.
5. You are a stranger to 9-1-1. Even though your pizza place may recognize you based on your phone number the most 9-1-1 knows about you when you call is your caller ID and some level of location information. Many areas have deployed Smart911.com to allow callers to provide information in advance of an emergency that displays in the event you call 9-1-1 for help in a supported Smart911 location, (see Smart911 availability here). To be prepared for the day to day accidents and emergencies you may face sign up for Smart911 here.