About 911 With Your Child
Not that many years 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 phoned the ambulance or doctor.
In 1968, the U.S. government
worked with the phone company to establish 911 as 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. Check your phone book to ensure that 911
is the emergency number you should use in your area.
Everyone needs to know
about calling 911 in an emergency. But children in particular
need specifics about what an emergency is. Asking your child,
"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 should be done
if one occurs. Role playing is an especially good way to address
various emergency scenarios and give your child the confidence
he or she will 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 paint a clear picture for your little
one of not only what types of emergencies can occur, but
also who can help.
When to Call
Learning what is an emergency goes hand in hand with learning
what isn't. 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 to always make the call. It's much better to be safe than
Make sure your child understands
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 nonemergency 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. That
means it's not for such things as a flat tire or even about a
theft that occurred the week before.
Stress to your child 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
How to Use 911
Although most 911 calls are now traced, it's still important for
your child to have your street address and phone number memorized.
Your child will need to give that information to the operator
as a confirmation so time isn't lost sending emergency workers
to the wrong address.
Make sure your child knows
that even though he or she shouldn't give personal information
to strangers, it's OK to trust the 911 operator. Walk him or her
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?
Explain to your child that
it's OK to be frightened in an emergency, but that it's important
to stay calm, speak slowly and clearly, and give as much detail
to the 911 operator as possible. If your child is old enough to
understand, also explain that the emergency dispatcher may give
first-aid instructions before emergency workers arrive at the
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.
More Safety Tips
Here are some additional safety tips to keep in mind:
- Always refer to the emergency number
as "nine-one-one" not "nine-eleven." In an emergency, your
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 children or babysitter. This
should include police, fire, and medical numbers (this is
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 child and babysitters know where to find it. When
your child is old enough, teach him or her basic first aid.