- Andy Murphy
911 Isn't Magic
You never know when you’re going to have to call 911. That’s exactly what happened to me one morning. My son and I were in the car on our way to start our day. I didn’t know that later I was going to have to call 911 multiple times.
In short there was a car driving erratically in multiple lanes. At one point the car was on the sidewalk next to us. This is when I decided to call 911.
While driving in slow moving traffic I picked up my phone and called. It rang once and then a male dispatch operator asked me the address of where the emergency was. I told them the closest intersection. I explained the situation and he asked if we were heading toward our town or away. I thought it an odd question but said we were heading away.
He let me know that he was going to transfer me to the next town’s jurisdiction because the county we were in couldn’t get someone to respond before we crossed the border into the next jurisdiction. I thought whatever let’s just get someone one this.
Then the operator hung up on me instead of transfering me. Great.
So then I called 911 again. This time I get a female dispatch operator. I brought her up to speed and then asked for her to go ahead and transfer me to the next jurisdiction. She understood and forwarded me on.
Meanwhile the car is directly behind me and I am very concerned that the driver is going to rear end me. We are stuck in the inside lane with no right turn, a sidewalk and a ditch beyond that. I’m stuck.
As traffic picks up the next town’s dispatch operator answered. I told them about the car and where we were. The operator seem confused as to why she was getting the call and not the county. Then I had to explain that we were about to be in her jurisdiction.
Once we were on the same page the driver of the car turned off into a gas station parking lot. This was good because she was off the road. It was bad for me because that means she was staying in the county’s jurisdiction. Great.
I explained that to the town’s operator and she chuckled and sent me back to county. Now I am talking to my third county operator and my fourth operator total. It is only at this point that I am now able to give a description of the car, location and help the operator decide what first responders need to be sent. Help is now on the way.
I spoke to three county operators and one town operator. None of them acted like they knew about the situation from another caller. That leads me to believe that I was the only one calling to get this person help. If you see an emergency, YOU call 911. Don’t think someone else will do it. You be the one to take action.
All told, my 911 calls took about 7 minutes to get someone dispatched to help. I spoke to three more operators than I was planning. I didn’t think I was going to be in a jurisdictional tug of war over who got to respond. I didn’t know I was going to have to explain the situation over and over again. And I really didn’t expect to get hung up on. But it happens.
There was still response time to consider. Knowing the area, my best guess is that police could have responded in under three minutes. So factor in the 7 minutes it took me to get a solution, that’s 10 total minutes from realizing something is wrong to a police officer responding. The situation was still ongoing during that time. Anything could have happened in that 10 minutes.
You can’t expect for everything to go correctly when you call 911. I once called 911 after hearing a terrible accident near me. I called and the phone rang 10 times with no answer. I hung up and called again. It rang seven times with no answer. Sometimes things go wrong when you call for help. Have a plan beyond calling 911.
Don’t Blame Dispatch
Emergency dispatch operators have a tough job. I know, I’ve visited several dispatch centers and talked with operators. They are good people trying to do their best when someone else is at their worst. They are human and sometimes they hang up on you by accident.
While I consider dispatch operators to be part of the first responders team, they are are not police officers in their squad cars or fire captains in the truck. They dispatch the police, fire and EMS. They field hundreds of calls every day so it’s important when you talk to them to stay cool, speak clearly and don’t panic.
Have a plan before calling 911 in case things don’t go smoothly. Calling 911 isn’t like being on base when playing tag. You’re not immune to what’s going on around you. The threat may still exist or in my case, still be moving. Give as much information as you can so that help can get to you or someone else as fast as possible.
Speaking of calling for help, read about the time someone collapsed at my office and what I had to do. For more ways to make your family safer, consider The Secure Dad Newsletter.
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