Why the three digits of 9-1-1? These numbers were chosen based on a few reasons. It needed to be a number that could be dialed fast, and easily remembered. Also, it could not be a series of numbers already in use, so 9-1-1 was chosen.
The first 911 call was made in Alabama on Feb. 16, 1968. In the years since, and continued today, striving for perfection in service is ongoing. Dispatch centers across the nation experience the same problems no matter the population of the area. Funding and manpower are near the top following closely by fielding calls that should not be ringing into an emergency line.
What started out to be a number for true emergencies has merged into a number for general information, without any directive. Dispatch centers are answering dire emergency calls along with calls that could be handled by a few more clicks on the smart phone, or another page turned in the phonebook. When someone thinks of an emergency, they think of heart attacks, house fires, home break-ins or serious traffic accidents. To sum it up, “life or death” situations.
Out of the calls received, it is surprisingly high how many are not true emergencies. Here are a few examples from callers that have dialed 9-1-1.
Dispatcher: “911, where is your emergency?”
Caller: “When does the time change back?”
Caller: “Why is the internet out?”
Caller: “When does the parade start?”
Caller: “I drove by and saw a cat up in a tree. I was worried it may fall. It is not my cat; I don’t live around here.”
Caller: “Can you tell me the number to the tire place?”
Caller: “My phone is stuck, I think I may be out of minutes, can you fix it?”
Caller: “I think I have a water leak in my yard.”
Included in these calls – always without fail – are the younger kids playing with the phone. The “tweens” with their first phone, thinking it will be funny and no one will know it was them who dialed.
With people of all ages, it is the accidental pocket dial. Dispatchers may be telling someone how to help their family member during a seizure, right into the next call of trying to explain why 9-1-1 does not control the internet service. When 9-1-1 is dialed, dispatch only sees an emergency call inbound. There has yet to be a magical screen invented to advise what that call will entail.
Many will claim that over the past year they have tried to only dial the non-emergency number to the Texas County Sheriff’s Department, and it went to 9-1-1. It is true that the non-emergency number for the sheriff’s office does rollover to dispatch. However, it rolls into an administration line, and dispatch answers it. When it appears before the dispatcher, it shows as an admin call. These are different than dialing 9-1-1.
Texas County is fortunate to have Enhanced 9-1-1. With this, calls are answered on a call-taking trunking system and are also plotted within the mapping system as they are received. Texas County also provides pre-arrival instructions for all calls, from bleeding control to CPR instruction. Dispatchers are trained to talk with callers and advise them what to do in situations as domestic incidents, fires and countless other emergencies.
Dispatch is under constant scrutiny on how, why or when a call is dispatched. A dispatcher must make split second decisions multiple times a day on call priorities. When a 9-1-1 call is made, the only criteria that is taken into consideration for dispatch priority is what type of call was received. There is no special priority because of the caller’s name or location. Texas County is the largest, in land area for the state of Missouri. That does not help the people when emergency responders are limited and spread throughout the county.
Education is key when having the responsibility of ownership of a phone. Keep in mind all cell phones, if they are charged, can still dial 9-1-1, even if the service has been discontinued. There are countless calls that are deemed an emergency that would not be considered an emergency to someone else in the same situation.
I do not intend to discourage anyone from dialing 9-1-1 if they believe they are in an emergency situation.