Guest Editorials

Calling 911: The do’s, the don’ts, and the how to’s

by Rion Phillips, supervisor at Valley Emergency Communications Center

Most of you will never find yourself in a position of requesting help from a 911 dispatcher for emergency assistance.  However, if you do, there are several things you can do to get responders on scene as quickly as possible.

First, preparation is key. Be familiar with the area where you live, as well as the resources and agencies in your county. Most people know which police or fire department serves their area, but how many know which dispatch center handles those agencies?

In Salt Lake County there are two primary 911 dispatch centers, as well as several other centers serving additional police and medical agencies. If you call 911, your call will be routed to one of these two centers based on your location. Depending on the initial information the call takers at those centers receive, they may keep the call in house or transfer it to another center. The time between your call being received and when responders arrive on scene is not significantly affected by the time it takes to gather this initial information and get you to the correct dispatch center.

It is important to be vigilant in knowing where you are when travelling. There is no more gut-wrenching feeling than having someone call in desperate need of help and not be able to be easily found. Rest assured that there are technologies that, along with the knowledge of the dispatchers and responders, we will use to locate you as fast as possible, but the more information you give will help us get help to you even faster.

Second, you should know to expect once we knowyour location and what’s going on the majority of the centers here in the Salt Lake valley use some type of protocol to gather information. Regardless of the protocol, all of the information we gather is used to determine priority, number or type of responders, as well as instructions we may need to give you to help until the responders arrive. The other important thing to note is that regardless of what race, age, sex, nationality, sexual orientation, etc., you will receive the same level of service. There should be no fear of calling any law enforcement agency to investigate a same-sex domestic violence case, no anxiety over calling for medical help if you are transgender, and certainly no hesitation to call for help if you are depressed or suicidal. Every person in this line of work is here to help anyone who needs it.

Lastly, the most frequently encountered 911 situations are pocket dials. You may laugh at the thought of pocket dialing 911 and the embarrassment of an officer showing up to your home or work; however, this has turned into a real problem for us. It can be frustrating trying to explain to callers that we are in fact 911, we really did receive a call, and we are genuinely calling back to make sure everyone is okay.

In addition to the hundreds of pocket dials we receive daily, we receive hundreds more where someone has actually meant to dial 911 for something they have witnessed, and then hung up before we can answer. If you are ever waiting for someone to answer, it is most likely is because we have had a spike in calls, frequently due to some type of traffic hazard, such as a mattress on the freeway, or an accident in a busy intersection. By no means am I saying to not call, just be patient with us while we triage sometimes upward of 30 calls per minute, to get to your phone call. I assure you we will answer and will get help to you as soon as possible. The fastest way for that to happen is to stay on the line, and not hang up and call again.

A great resource to help you in your pre-planning, especially locating non-emergency phone numbers you can use to keep the 911 lines free for emergency calls is 911 should only be used to save a life, stop a crime or report a fire. The majority of other calls can be handled through the non-emergency numbers. If you are unsure if you are having an emergency or not, err on the side of caution and call 911. Along with the non-emergency numbers for your local departments, has a lot of other information to help you be prepared.

If you are interested in exploring a career in 911 dispatching, please contact one of your local dispatch centers for more information.


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