Who is Answering Your 911 Calls? The Answer May Shock You.

One of the best-known brands globally are the digits 9-1-1. When we hear those numbers, we immediately equate them to mean “emergency.” Even in countries across Europe and the Middle East where the emergency number is 1-1-2, or some other three digit short code, the digits 9-1-1 are well known and recognized by most people.

Television has taught us that in an emergency, this number will connect us with one of the many call takers working at one of the 6,000 Public Safety Answer Points (PSAPs) who are the unsung heroes behind today’s emergency communications infrastructure.

While this is true nearly 300 million times a year, there are cases where dialing 9-1-1 will only get you as far as an individual within your business or hotel.

The logic behind this method of call handling is usually explained away with the statement, “We want to get help to people as quickly as possible in an emergency.” While this gesture seems noble and logical, quite often there is a bigger picture that should be examined before committing to this kind of policy.

Confused? Just ask Janet Williams of Laguna Niquel, Calif. how important the role of a trained Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) was to her this past weekend, when she started choking on a cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows.

In an interview with Fox 11 LA, Williams said, “The harder I tried to breathe in, the harder it was to breathe.”

Fortunately for her, her daughters dialed 9-1-1, reaching the Orange County Fire Authority’s 911 Dispatch Center in Irvine. Following the established EMD protocols, the call taker calmed the girls down and began giving instructions that would ultimately say Janet’s life.

The following is a partial transcript of the event:

9-1-1 EMD: Listen to me Gina, okay? I want you to stand behind your mom.

Gina: Yeah, I’m behind her.

9-1-1 EMD: Wrapping your arms around her waist.

Gina: K.

9-1-1 EMD: Make a fist with your hand, put the thumb-side of your fist against the stomach above the belly button. Tell me when you’re ready.

Gina: Okay!

9-1-1 EMD: With your other hand grab your fist.

Gina: Yeah…

9-1-1 EMD: Quickly jerk inward and upward, do it now!

Fortunately, this story ends with the family reunited and safe for the holidays. But, what if this had happened at work, or in a hotel, or in another building where 9-1-1 didn’t put you in touch with public safety officials?

What if it put you in touch with Bob at the front desk, or Susan, or anyone else without proper Emergency Medical Dispatcher training?

In emergencies, seconds count, especially if you’re unable to breathe.

Would Janet have survived? Or would this blog be about another unfortunate tragedy because a telephone administrator did not have access to 9-1-1 programmed to actually reach 9-1-1 in the MLTS/PBX telephone system.

Tragically, in December 2013, Kari Hunt lost her life after 9-1-1 could NOT be dialed.

How long do we have to wait for someone else to perish because 9-1-1 is not “allowed” to be dialed, as in the tragic US post office story this past summer in Oakland Calif., or if 9-1-1 is allowed to be dialed, but an IT administrator has made the decision that those calls should be answered internally, instead of the PSAP, where trained call takers sit and await your call.

Technology? Not really a problem. Cost? Not even remotely an issue. Public awareness? That’s the real key to providing safe communications across all communications platforms that we use every day.

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