9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Expert Advice: Too Many Questions?

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, May 2013
Written by T.G. Mieure, an APCO Life Member from Illinois.  He has been involved in public safety for 40 years.

I was taking a 9-1-1 call, and the caller started yelling at me for asking too many questions.  How else can I get the information I need to dispatch the call?

"If the caller is uncooperative and refuses to answer questions, we always advise the responders that the caller is uncooperative.  This warns them that they may find more of the same behavior once on the scene."

"One of the greatest issues, in my opinion, is that the public doesn't recognize that help can take several forms.  They don't understand that there are different types or differing amounts of resources that are sent, depending upon the circumstances or that the response determination is based on so many different factors."

If you have the luxury of more than one telecommunicator working, then I would get just real basic information, relay it to my partner so they can get the proper  response on the way.  Start asking the follow-up questions and let the caller know help is on the way and you have to ask a few more questions.

What if you're the only telecommunicator working, what do you do?  I would again obtain basic information from the caller and send the appropriate response.  You let the caller know help is on the way and you are going to ask the caller a few more questions.

I've also found, if possible, letting the caller listen to you send out the call and responding units reply back reassures the caller that help is really on the way.  Then you can start asking the protocol questions.

You must also remember that the caller may not understand what is occurring.  This may be their first contact with 9-1-1 and/or your agency.  They think it is taking forever to get help on the way when, in fact, it is only a few seconds.  You, as the telecommunicator, are not seeing or experiencing what the caller is seeing.

Another avenue to use, but it is not as quick as the above examples, is that of 9-1-1 public education.  You can easily put together a 20-30 minute program for presentation to civic groups, citizens' police/fire academies, schools, etc.  This gives you a chance to review why we ask so many questions.  It would be great to create a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) sheet as a handout for your presentation.  You could also do some role playing, with audience participants simulating some minor calls like a prowler, brush fire, etc.  Consider placing information on your agency's website with general guidelines on calltaking.

Illinois APCO has a website (www.il911info.org) to assist in 9-1-1 education.  IL-911Info is a joint venture between the Illinois APCO Chapter and the Illinois Chapter of NENA.  Their goal is to communicate with people of all ages on the most effective use of calling 9-1-1 in any emergency situation.  There are numerous brochures to use and handout material available from the website.

It seems like this type of problem occurs a lot during an emergency medical dispatch (EMD) call for service.  We all know there are more questions to ask for this type of call.  You, as a telecommunicator, should try to put yourself in the caller's shoes.  Then ask, what would you be feeling?  Remember, this could be your mother, father, etc. on the other end of the phone.

I'll give you an outlandish example.  A telecommunicator took an EMD call from a frantic female needing EMS for her father.  The caller became very irate to the point that she was going to come to the comm center and kick the telecommunicator's butt.  Once the ambulance was sent, she was still belligerent toward the telecommunicator and hung up.  She never came to the comm center.

This incident with this caller occurred two more times in about a six-month period.  The third time, there was discussion about having her arrested.  Instead, the supervisor invited her to the comm center and gave her a tour.  She was shown a set of the protocol cards, and the supervisor explained to her why we ask the questions.  During this tour, an EMD call came in and she saw how the telecommunicator handled the call using the protocol cards and dispatching the EMS unit.  She left with a positive attitude toward the comm center.

In conclusion, belligerent callers are typically frantic with worry and don't understand the system.  You should provide reassurance that help really is on the way and that the questions you're asking are not delaying the help they need.  Doing so will help you get the information you need to send the appropriate resources.

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