Life-saving lesson: Dialing 911 in a wireless world - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC


Life-saving lesson: Dialing 911 in a wireless world

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An estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 centers across the country annually. Some of these calls are made by the littlest of heroes -- children.

While many parents teach their kids how to dial 911 in the event of an emergency, many telecommunicators agree there are a few critical steps parents may be overlooking.

Ask practically any kid in your neighborhood and they will likely be able to show you how to dial 911. They can even probably recite both their home address and phone number.

While that's good information they need to know, have you taught your children how to use the phone?

According to the Federal Communications Commission, an estimated 70 percent of all 911 calls are made from a cell phone.

In fact, about a third of the country uses wireless as their primary or only type of phone service.

From Blackberries and Androids, to iPhones and other mobile devices, each operates differently.

For each type of phone in your home, your little ones need a hands-on emergency call lesson.

Kristi Rhinehart is a telecommunicator for MEDIC which serves the metropolitan area of Charlotte, N.C.

"They are just like little adults," Rhinehart says referring to young children. "They absorb a lot of information and we should give them that information!"

When America Now asked 7-year-old Kensi Bell to show us how she would dial 911 from her father's cell phone, she barely knew how to turn it on.

This is why it is critical to teach your child basic cell phone functions, including the emergency call button on every smart phone.

It's located on the bottom of the password screen, but your child doesn't need to know the code in order to use it.

Make sure they also know the number for each cell phone located in your home as well as the one you're using on the road.

While a nearby cell tower may be capable of tracking a 911 caller's location, your child always needs to have some sense of where they are.

"Without an address, we are dead in the water; we don't know where to go," Rhinehart explains.

Help children memorize the addresses of places you commonly visit like the park or their grandparents' home.

Even knowing nearby landmarks is helpful to telecommunicators.

"If it happened in real life and you're not prepared, then that would be bad," Bell says.

So, take a tip from this child and practice, practice, practice!

First, call the 911 operations center for your region, and check to see if your child could call 911 using your cell phone to speak with an actual telecommunicator as a practice drill.

Don't stop there.  

"Ask if you can take a tour. Many 911 centers will allow you, especially if you are teaching your child proper 911 techniques, to come in and see exactly what they do," Rhinehart adds.

It may surprise you, but some telecommunicators say children are the calmest and most helpful callers they get.

"I would rather talk to a child all day long, than talk to a freaked-out adult," Rhinehart adds.

If you are the parent or guardian of a small child, teach them about the circumstances in which they should call 911, how to appropriately communicate where they are using an address and landmarks, and how to work all the wireless devices in your home.

The FCC recommends parents create a contact in your wireless phone named ICE which stands for In Case of Emergency. Include in it a list of phone numbers for people you want to be notified in an emergency. This could be a helpful aid for first responders and your children.

Additional Information:

The following information is from the website KidsHealth from Nemours in an online article entitled, "Teaching your Child How to Use 911" (Source:

  • One of the challenges of being a parent is arming your kids with the skills to handle the obstacles life presents. Teaching them how to use 911 in an emergency could be one of the simplest - and most important - lessons you'll ever share.
  • Not that long ago, there was a separate telephone number for each type of emergency agency. For a fire, you called the fire department number; for a crime, you called the police; for a medical situation, you called an ambulance or doctor. But now 911 is a central number for all types of emergencies. An emergency dispatch operator quickly takes information from the caller and puts the caller in direct contact with whatever emergency personnel are needed, thus making response time quicker.
  • According to the National Emergency Number Association, 911 covers nearly all of the population of the United States, but check your phone book to be sure that 911 is the emergency number to use in your area.
  • Everyone needs to know about calling 911 in an emergency. But kids also need to know the specifics about what an emergency is. Asking them questions like "What would you do if we had a fire <> in our house?" or "What would you do if you saw someone trying to break in?" gives you a chance to discuss what constitutes an emergency and what to do if one occurs. Role playing is an especially good way to address various emergency scenarios and give your kids the confidence they'll need to handle them.
  • For younger children, it might also help to talk about who the emergency workers are in your community - police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, and so on - and what kinds of things they do to help people who are in trouble. This will clarify not only what types of emergencies can occur, but also who can help.
  • When to Call 911
    • Part of understanding what is an emergency is knowing what is not. A fire, an intruder in the home, an unconscious family member - these are all things that would require a call to 911. A skinned knee, a stolen bicycle, or a lost pet wouldn't. Still, teach your child that if ever in doubt and there's no adult around to ask, make the call. It's much better to be safe than sorry.
    • Make sure your kids understand that calling 911 as a joke is a crime in many places. In some cities, officials estimate that as much as 75% of the calls made to 911 are non-emergency calls. These are not all pranks. Some people accidentally push the emergency button on their cell phones. Others don't realize that 911 is for true emergencies only (not for such things as a flat tire or even about a theft that occurred the week before).
    • Stress that whenever an unnecessary call is made to 911, it can delay a response to someone who actually needs it. Most areas now have what is called enhanced 911, which enables a call to be traced to the location from which it was made. So if someone dials 911 as a prank, emergency personnel could be dispatched directly to that location. Not only could this mean life or death for someone having a real emergency on the other side of town, it also means that it's very likely the prank caller will be caught and punished.
  • Although most 911 calls are now traced, it's still important for your kids to have your street address and phone number memorized. They'll need to give that information to the operator as a confirmation so time isn't lost sending emergency workers to the wrong address.
  • Walk them through some of the questions the operator will ask, including:
    --Where are you calling from? (Where do you live?)
    --What type of emergency is this?
    --Who needs help?
    --Is the person awake and breathing?
  • Make it clear that your child should not hang up until the person on the other end says it's OK, otherwise important instructions or information could be missed.
  • Always refer to the emergency number as "nine-one-one" not "nine-eleven." In an emergency, a child may not know how to dial the number correctly because of trying to find the "eleven" button on the phone.
  • Make sure your house number is clearly visible from the street so that police, fire, or ambulance workers can easily locate your address.
  • If you live in an apartment building, make sure your child knows the apartment number and floor you live on.
  • Keep a list of emergency phone numbers <> handy near each phone for your kids or babysitter <>. This should include police, fire, and medical numbers (particularly important if you live in one of the few areas where 911 is not in effect), as well as a number where you can be reached, such as your cell phone, pager, or work number. In the confusion of an emergency, calling from a printed list is simpler than looking in the phone book or figuring out which is the correct speed-dial number. The list should also include known allergies, especially to any medication, medical conditions, and insurance information.
  • If you have special circumstances in your house, such as an elderly grandparent or a person with a heart condition, epilepsy, or diabetes living in your home, prepare your child by discussing specific emergencies that could occur and how to spot them.
  • Keep a first-aid kit <> handy and make sure your kids and babysitters know where to find it. When kids are old enough, teach them basic first aid.

The following information is from in an article entitled, "Teaching Your Child About Dialing for Help" (

  • By the age of 3 or 4, most children are ready to become familiarized with the emergency numbers of 911 and "0" for operator.
  • They should know WHEN to call; WHAT to say and do; and HOW to find the numbers.
  • You can unplug your phone and practice making calls while role-playing.
  • Children should know that if they are away from home and there is an emergency, calling home may not be the best choice. But there is always someone to answer the phone at 911.
  • Children should know they do not need money to call 911.
  • Explain to children that someone IS coming when they call 911, although it may take a few minutes.
  • Ask your child What An Emergency Is? Give examples of fires, car accidents and injuries. Explain when to call if they feel threatened or bullied.
  • Explain to children that they will never get in trouble for calling 911, even if everything ends up to be OK. People only get in trouble for calling 911, when they do it to play a joke.
  • Children should know that they must immediately say, "I have an emergency," "I need help," or anything else that lets the person on the other end of the phone know it is an emergency and assistance is needed. Children need to be prepared that they will be asked questions, and they must do their best to answer them. If the child is too scared and cannot talk, they need to know to stay on the line and someone will tell them what to do and trace the call. Most importantly, a child should learn never to hang-up until the person on the other end says that it is OK.

The following information is from the website National Emergency Number Association (NENA) in an online article entitled, "911 Statistics" (

  • An estimated 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 in the U.S. each year. According to the FCC, one-third are wireless calls; in many communities, it's one-half or more of all 9-1-1 calls.
  • Estimates are that nearly 29.7% of all U.S. households currently rely on wireless as their primary service as of June 2011 (having given up wireline service or chosen not to use it).

The following information is from the Federal Communications Commission (Source:

  • It is estimated that about 70 percent of 911 calls are placed from wireless phones, and that percentage is growing.
  • While wireless phones can be an important public safety tool, they also create unique challenges for emergency response personnel and wireless service providers. Since wireless phones are mobile, they are not associated with one fixed location or address. While the location of the cell site closest to the 911 caller may provide a general indication of the caller's location, that information is not usually specific enough for rescue personnel to deliver assistance to the caller quickly.
  • Consumers making a 911 call from a wireless phone should remember the following:
    --Tell the emergency operator the location of the emergency right away.
    --Provide the emergency operator with your wireless phone number, so if the call gets disconnected, the emergency operator can call you back.
  • PSAPs currently lack the technical capability to receive texts, photos and videos.
  • If your wireless phone is not "initialized" (meaning you do not have a contract for service with a wireless service provider), and your emergency call gets disconnected, you must call the emergency operator back because the operator does not have your telephone number and cannot contact you.
  • To help public safety personnel allocate emergency resources, learn and use the designated number in your state for highway accidents or other non life-threatening incidents. States often reserve specific numbers for these types of incidents. For example, "#77" is the number used for highway accidents in Virginia.
  • Refrain from programming your phone to automatically dial 911 when one button, such as the "9" key, is pressed. Unintentional wireless 911 calls, which often occur when auto-dial keys are inadvertently pressed, cause problems for emergency call centers.
  • If your wireless phone came pre-programmed with the auto-dial 911 feature already turned on, turn this feature off. Consult your user manual for instructions.
  • Lock your keypad when you're not using your wireless phone. This action prevents accidental calls to 911.
  • Consider creating a contact in your wireless phone's memory with the name "ICE" (in Case of Emergency), which lists the phone numbers of people you want to have notified in an emergency.

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