BUFFALO - Erie County Commissioner of Central Police Services John Glascott is urging proper usage of the emergency 911 call system during the upcoming summer months, when call volume rises dramatically, and advising callers to the system of the questions they will be asked when calling 911 along with the proper procedures to ensure quick response.
In 2013, the Erie County Central Police Services Communications Division processed more than 550,000 calls to the 911 system. For non-emergencies, residents are advised to call their police agency's seven-digit phone number.
"When you call 911, your call is answered by a civilian call taker whose first responsibility is to find out if this is an emergency; if someone is injured, if a crime is in progress, if there is a fire. It is very important that the caller know what questions will be asked of them and why the call taker needs to ask these questions," Glascott said. "When you dial 911 from a land line telephone, the following information is available to the call takers: the calling phone number, the address or location of the phone, who owns the phone and which emergency responders serve that area. However, over two-thirds of 911 calls in Erie County come from cell phones and are answered at a central answering point. When calling from a cell phone, be sure to give the 911 call taker your exact location as well as the number from which you are calling."
Glascott stressed the importance and necessity of 911 callers' locations being verified by call takers. Inconsistencies and occasional inaccuracies in phone company information may lead to inaccurate representations of where callers are actually located when they call 911, cell phone calls only display the address of the cell tower the call is routed through, and voice-over-Internet phone systems will display a caller's home address while they may be accessing the Internet from another location to call 911. "It is vital to give your VOIP provider accurate address information and update it with them if you move or change location," Glascott added.
When a call to 911 is received, the call taker is required to ask several questions in order to give responders an accurate picture of the situation. During this brief conversation it is essential to speak clearly and calmly so the call taker can get all of the necessary information. The call taker can update incoming information and relay it to the dispatcher, who can then relay it to responders who may be on the way while the caller is still on the line.
Call takers will cover the basic 4 W's with all callers: Where? What? Who? and When?
Where? This may include more detailed information than just the street address. This information may include apartment number, floor, suite number, or even the color of a house. This may make it easier and quicker for responders to find callers.
What? This is the basic information defining the nature of the incident. Callers should be as calm as possible while being as specific as possible about the immediate problem. It can make the process longer if the call taker is trying to understand an excited or hysterical caller.
Who? The call taker may ask for information to help responders identify suspects. These questions can include physical and clothing descriptions, names (if known), vehicle description and last known location or direction of travel. They may also ask the caller's name and phone number in case officials have to call back, or the responders need to talk to someone who actually saw what happened. Callers are not required to give their name.
When? It makes a difference if the incident is in progress, just occurred or happened some time ago. A specific time frame is important for appropriate response.
Glascott concluded, "The 9-1-1 call taker asks questions that are designed to produce a safe and appropriate public safety response in the least amount of time possible. Do not hang up until the call-taker instructs you to. They may ask you to continue to update information for an in-progress incident or give you instructions on what to do until help arrives."
Glascott also reminds residents that Text-to-911 is not currently available in Erie County, but will be in the near future. Currently, if people text 911, they get a bounce-back message instructing them to call instead. At present, voice calling is the only way to reach 911 in an emergency.