8 Tips For Teaching Children How to Call 911 (According to Dispatchers)

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Here’s what first responders want children to know about calling 911.

Teaching children to call 911 effectively could mean the difference between saving a life and losing one.

But thanks to the first responders of Charles County, Maryland, that task just got a little bit easier.

What follows are their 8 best tips for making sure children know exactly what to do, and what needs to be communicated, in the case of an emergency:

#1 Never refer to the phone number as 9-11 (nine eleven).

There isn’t, after all, an 11 button on the phone.

#2 Explain the purpose of 911 with appropriate and easily understandable scenarios.

As a Twitter post back in January from the Lafayette Police Department reminds us, children don’t always quite get the message that 911 is for true emergencies only.

#3 Make sure your child knows their address, phone number, their own full name, and the full names of their parents.

“I have talked to a number of children,” said Maj. Laura Meyers, who oversees quality assurance and training for the Sedgwick County, Kansas, emergency communications center. “They will give you the information you ask for. It seems like they’re usually very willing and very helpful and very attentive.”

But while dispatchers are trained on how to speak to children, not to mention the fact that many are parents of young children themselves, as The Wichita Eagle points out, obtaining the necessary information from a child is often much easier said than done, especially when that child hasn’t been taught vital information such as their home address.

 #4 When you’re out and about, have your child practice identifying landmarks around them.

One of the ways dispatchers try to figure out a child’s location is by asking what’s around them: Is there a park or a school nearby? What does the house look like across the street? The more specific the details, the better.

#5 Teach them how to properly use both a landline and a cell phone.

Just because adults think it’s obvious which end of a phone to speak into doesn’t mean children know.

#6 Explain that in the case of a fire or burglary, it’s important to get out of the house before calling 911.

Adults may find this action intuitive, but that doesn’t mean a frightened child will do the same. Reiterate to leave the house or building before attempting to call 911 in case of fire, burglary or another emergency that requires evacuation.

#7 Make sure they know to follow the dispatcher’s directions and never hang up the phone until they’ve been told to do so.

“It can take dispatchers several minutes to confirm where a cellphone call originates, depending on the location of satellites used to triangulate the call’s signal,” Kim Pennington, director of emergency communications for Sedgwick County told The Wichita Eagle. “Even then, the result may be an incorrect address.”

#8 Teach them that if they accidentally dial 911, they should always wait on the line until a dispatcher picks up. 

As WJAC-TV reports, one of every six calls to 911 in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, is a hang-up. And because dispatchers are legally obligated to treat each and every call as an emergency, an accidental dial can make a lot of additional work, not to mention a healthy dose of worry.

“Any one of them could be the way an emergency comes in,” said Robbin Melnyk, Cambria County 911 director. “So when the dispatchers answer 911 hang-up calls there is a little bit of anxiety until we can confirm everything is OK.”

For more emergency preparedness tips:

Emergency Public Information Kit

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Sarah Sinning

Sarah Sinning is Associate Editor of EfficientGov.com. She is based in North Carolina.