How 9-1-1 Works
When 9-1-1 was developed in 1968 it was intended that the number was easy to remember and provided callers with free and easy access to the local police or fire dispatchers in the event of an emergency. Today most of the country, outside of a few remote rural areas, has some type of 9-1-1 service for their home and business wired telephones. However Connecticut is one of only a handful of States able to handle 9-1-1 wireless calls from cellular phones.
When you call 9-1-1 from a wire line telephone the call is automatically routed to the “Public Safety Answering Point” in the town in which the call is placed, simply by looking up the telephone number that is placing the call in an address database. When you call 9-1-1 from a wireless or cellular phone the location technology is much different, and is actually in the process of being implemented nationally in two phases right now. It’s important to know the difference.
Phase 1 of wireless 9-1-1 implementation called for all cellular carriers to pass on the location of the cellular tower that the 9-1-1 caller was accessing to the 9-1-1 system. In this way the call could usually be sent to the appropriate jurisdiction where the event was taking place, saving valuable time. Connecticut’s emergency answering points have had phase 1 capability in their dispatch centers for about two years.
Phase 2 wireless 9-1-1 requires cellular companies to send along to the emergency answering point the location of the caller in addition to the location of the tower. Not all cellular companies have attained this level yet, and the FCC has granted extensions on the original deadlines to reach this goal. Additionally, only newer cellular phones have the capability of sending their location, and the owner of the phone has the option in most phones of turning on or off the feature.
Connecticut is one of just eighteen States that has progressed this far with wireless 9-1-1. As of November 2004 every Connecticut Public Safety Answering Point has the capability of handling 9-1-1 wireless Phase 2 calls.
It’s important to have location technology to help in cases where a caller in an emergency might not know where they are or if for some reason they are unable to talk. But no technology will provide better information than if people stay aware of where they are and pass that location information on to a public safety dispatcher when calling 9-1-1 in an emergency, no matter what type of phone is used.
How to help us
In Farmington the Communications Division dispatches responders for Fire, Medical, or Police emergencies. When you call 9-1-1 the most important thing we need to know is your location. In fact, when we answer 9-1-1 we ask “9-1-1, what is the location of your emergency?” before we get any other information. In this way, if we were to get cut off or unable to get any other details about what is going on, at the very least we can send a response to check the location of your call.
The most difficult calls to handle on 9-1-1 are those from callers that assume they know what the Public Safety Dispatcher needs to know and blurt that information out in an unorganized manner. The best callers to 9-1-1 are those that can listen to the questions that the dispatcher is asking them and provide brief and clear answers to those questions. The dispatchers are trained to ask questions that will locate and prioritize an incident.
Many callers think that they need to give out the information quickly and then hang up so the dispatcher can send help. But often, after collecting a certain amount of basic information, responders can be dispatched while the caller is still on the phone providing updated information. In the case of medical calls we may be able to provide life saving instructions to the caller after responders have been dispatched. Therefore it is important to patiently listen to the instructions the dispatcher is giving you.
When to call 9-1-1
The adage for 9-1-1 is “Dial 9-1-1 To Stop a Crime, To Report a Fire, To Save a Life”. Please use 9-1-1 only for emergencies. Every police department has a 10-digit non-emergency number available (in Farmington, the non-emergency number is 860-675-2400). By using the non-emergency number properly, the 9-1-1 lines are left free for emergency callers to get through when they need to. And don’t call 9-1-1 for non-emergency information like directions, phone numbers, or to find out what time the parade is starting.
If you dial 9-1-1 accidentally, don’t just hang up without talking to the dispatcher. They will have to call the number back to check that there is no emergency, and may require a response from the police if they can’t reach you. Simply stay on the line and tell the dispatcher that you dialed 9-1-1 by mistake.
Hopefully you won’t ever have to call 9-1-1. If you do have to report an emergency, we hope that by knowing a little more about how 9-1-1 works and the kind of information we need, you can assist us to send out help in an efficient manner.