9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Environmental Concerns for the Law Enforcement Dispatcher

Written by Capt. George Deuchar (Ret.); Director of Training, PowerPhone Inc.

In addition to everything else that a dispatcher has to concern him/herself with, environmental concerns is being added to the list. I am not suggesting that dispatchers join the crusade for clean air and water (although a worthy cause); however, I do strongly believe that, with every emergency or in-progress call you handle, you must pay attention to the environment the caller is in at the time. With each call that you handle, you should ask yourself, "Is the caller in the safest environment possible?" You must then make an assessment based upon the information you are receiving. If the answer to the question is "no," then you must work with the caller in making their environment a safer one.

In the simplest of terms, and for the purpose of example, let's consider the following scenarios:
  1. A caller reports that there is an uncontrollable fire in the kitchen of his home. Is he in the safest environment possible? Obviously not, leading us to advise the caller to get out of the house (if our information includes a safe escape route).
  2. A caller reports that she has just arrived home from work and found her front door open with signs of forced entry. Is this the safest environment for her to remain in? Probably not. When we do not know for certain that the suspect/burglar has fled the area, we need to suggest that she leave her residence until a police officer arrives on the scene.

Consider the caller that dials 911 and advises that her husband is suicidal. She continues, adding that he has locked himself in the bedroom and has access to firearms. She has been calling to him from outside the bedroom door, and he will not answer. Is the caller in the safest environment possible? A definite "no" is determined by a quick assessment of the situation and the dispatcher is faced with the challenge of getting her to a safer environment. One question that should follow your assessment is, "Are you calling from a cordless phone?" Obviously, there are several other questions that need to be asked once we get her to a safer location. Upon confirming that she has access to a cordless phone, take advantage and get her out of the unsafe environment--perhaps the front porch, back deck, front or back yard, or even a safer room in the house. At this point, anywhere would be better than in the room with her husband, or standing outside the bedroom door. The benefit of utilizing the cordless phone is that you can remain in contact with her until responders arrive on the scene. This allows her to provide you with constant updates regarding her husband's status. This simple technology, available in most department stores, can tremendously assist us with very serious calls.

I am not sure that we are ready to replace "911, what (or where) is your emergency?" with, "911, are you calling from a cordless phone?" Nevertheless, it is an option that should be considered when striving to place your caller in the safest environment possible.

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