Seconds Count: Being 9-1-1 Savvy
of the article printed in Hearing Loss, SHHH Journal July/Aug 2003
key element in handling emergency situations is being prepared.
Fire Marshals train us to plan an escape route for our families
before a fire occurs. What you may not realize is that understanding
how your 9-1-1 Call Center operates is an important component of
preparedness! This becomes especially important for individuals
with hearing loss, for whom telephone communication is difficult
if not impossible.
What is the address of your emergency?"
the 9-1-1 Call Taker responds to a call, a carefully scripted protocol
is set into motion. The first thing the call taker must do is verify
the address of the emergency and the phone number there so that
help can be sent. If you lose consciousness or are cut off before
you are able to go into detail, the call taker is still able to
dispatch help to the appropriate location.
Understand, even if your Call Center has Enhanced 9-1-1 features
(e.g., ANI/ALI: Automatic Number Indicator/Automatic Location Indicator),
the Call Taker will want to verify the address of the emergency.
Some business phone systems (e.g., PBX) display a central office
address rather than the location of the phone. For example, the
City of Eugene has offices spread through several downtown buildings,
but they are all connected to the same phone system. Thus the ANI/ALI
information the Call Taker sees would be the City's central office
address, rather than the building or office you are in. There are
also issues of calls from cell phones, or calls made from someplace
other than the location of the emergency.
is the problem? Tell me exactly what happened."
your location has been verified, the Call Taker will want to know
the nature of the emergency; that is, is it a police, fire, or medical
emergency? 9-1-1 Call Centers follow a carefully developed protocol
from one of several agencies nationwide. If the caller says someone
is not breathing, the Call Taker follows one set of questions; if
the complaint is chest pain, different questions are asked. The
questions are worded in a specific way and listed in a specific
order so that they can elicit the exact information from you-no
more and no less-so that the appropriate service can be dispatched
in the timeliest manner possible.
Joe Friday's famous quote ("Just the facts, ma'am, just the
facts.")? You should let the Call Taker ask you questions,
and answer the questions as they are asked. You may be tempted to
tell the Call Taker that your husband is having chest pains, and
it might be indigestion because of what he ate but it seems worse
tonight. The Call Taker wants to know if he is conscious, turning
blue, becoming clammy, or has pain running down his arm. Indeed,
because the Call Taker must follow protocol, they are trained in
persistent repetition; that is, they will repeat the question until
you respond to it. This is a useful technique in emergency situations
where people are panicking and not necessarily responding to questions
or following a logical line of thinking.
responses are being logged into a computer system. The Call Taker
will make the determination of which service (i.e., Police, Fire,
or Medical) is needed and the level of urgency (e.g., emergency,
non-emergency) based on your responses. Depending on whether you
are in the city or county, the Call Taker will either dispatch that
service or transfer your call to the appropriate service provider
(e.g., Sheriff's Office), and relay a log of the information you
provided. By law, they are allowed to transfer the call only once.
calls are silent; that is, when the 9-1-1 Call Taker answers the
phone no one responds. These nonresponsive or "noncompliant"
calls must be treated as an emergency. If the Call Center has the
ANI/ALI Enhanced 9-1-1 features, a police car is sent to the address.
The officer on the scene then dispatches other services (e.g., fire,
medical) if they are needed.
Does this Mean for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Callers?
you well know, not being able to hear makes calling 9-1-1 extremely
stressful. Deaf callers typically use TTYs (text telephones) to
make phone calls. If the parties they are calling do not have TTYs,
they may make the call using the nationwide Telecommunications Relay
Service (TRS). The Deaf caller calls TRS and gives them the phone
number of the person they want to call. The TRS Communication Assistant
calls the number. The Deaf person types what he or she wants to
say, the Communication Assistant (CA) reads it to the hearing party.
The hearing person responds, and the CA types the response to the
Deaf party. Because of limitations of the equipment, the parties
involved must speak (type) one at a time. Also, no background sounds
will be transmitted. Because typing and relaying of information
is involved, the amount of time involved is much greater than for
a spoken conversation between two people.
the individual who is hard of hearing often has clear or understandable
speech, he or she may use a different TRS service called Voice Carry
Over (VCO). With VCO, the hard-of-hearing caller speaks directly
to the person he or she is calling. That person's responses are
typed by the CA for the hard-of-hearing person to read.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that telephone
emergency services, including 9-1-1 services, provide direct access
to individuals who use TTYs and computer modems. The Department
of Justice mandated that all 9-1-1 Call Centers in the US be TTY-accessible
by 1998. This means that the Call Centers must be prepared to take
TTY calls direct from the caller, not with the assistance of TRS.
is a boon for TTY users; but VCO and other Relay Service customers
will still have difficulty for several reasons. The Relay Service
is national, not local. When you call 7-1-1 (the nationwide TRS
number), the CA answering is probably in another state. When you
ask the CA to call 9-1-1, he or she will have to ask you where you
live and look up the 10-digit emergency services number for your
area (they can't just call 9-1-1, because a local Call Center would
respond). Also, your ANI/ALI information will not be transmitted
to the Call Center through TRS because you have not dialed them
directly (although the TRS may be equipped to forward this information).
Finally, while it is difficult to interrupt someone in direct communication
on a TTY, it is impossible through the Relay Service. The equipment
used in relay calls generally allows the CA communication in one
direction. If you launch into irrelevant medical history, you will
not be interrupted with a request for your address (the CA may not
even be able to hear the 9-1-1 Call Taker trying to interrupt),
and life saving assistance may be delayed.