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Be sure to give your address correctly during a 911 call

April 16, 2017
By Neva Squires-Rodriguez

  • Neva-Squires Rodriguez

Spanish-speaking people often worry about dialing 911 because they are afraid the person taking the call will not understand them. However, by speaking slowly — even if it’s in Spanish — and giving their address at the beginning of the call, callers would get the help they need. Knowing this, I’m sure, would make more Latinos comfortable making those calls.

April 9-15 was National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. I was surprised to hear a local radio announcer give a public service announcement about the importance of knowing where you are when you call 911, especially if you’re on a cellphone. As a 911 dispatcher, I can say that whether in English or Spanish, location is the most important thing a caller can say when they call. I have been asked what happens when someone doesn’t give a location. People are always surprised when I tell them that it will take more time to get help to the caller.

While most cell calls have latitude and longitude coordinates linked to them, those coordinates are not always 100 percent accurate. When those type of calls come in, we get the coordinates and plug them into Google maps and come up with an approximate location. That is fine if the caller is outside of the house. If they’re inside, it may be a matter of time to find the caller because our police or paramedics may have to go door to door.

I have had a few calls from people who were having a stroke and had trouble getting their words out. Once, when the caller was finally able to give me an location, unfortunately it was a place they were at earlier in the day. However, the paramedics patiently stood by while I Googled that call’s coordinates. I then asked the caller what he saw outside and to hold his hand up to the window so our paramedics could find him.

In other cases, we work with the cellphone company to find the location. It’s tough when we know someone is in trouble and we can’t get there.

One thing I suggest to everyone is to make sure that your children know their address. And for Spanish-speaking callers, you should always give your address number by single numbers, for example 2-3-6-3 Main Street, rather than 23-63. It’s the dispatcher’s job to remain calm and to get as much information from the caller as possible so our police and fire department can find them. And believe me, we want to help.

Have you ever had to call 911? Write to me and tell me how your experience was at:

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