There are two ways you can contact your police department or sheriff’s office: by dialing 9-1-1 and by dialing the unique 10-digit administrative number, more commonly known as the non-emergency number. Both of these lines are answered at the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP, or a 9-1-1 call center) of the police department or sheriff’s office, but they should not be used interchangeably. To put it simply, 9-1-1 should be used during emergencies while the 10-digit number should be used in non-emergency cases.
The word “emergency” can sometimes be difficult to define, but most agencies would describe it as a dangerous or life-threatening scenario where a police, fire, or EMS presence is required. Telecommunicators receive all kinds of calls throughout the day and night that have nothing to do with dangerous scenarios, like reports of power outages or missing pets, or sometimes even questions about community events, so be sure to only contact 9-1-1 when you’re in an emergency that requires police, fire, or EMS.
What is the 10-digit non-emergency number and who does it contact?
If you’re in a situation that you recognize isn’t an emergency, but you still need to contact law enforcement, you can use your local 10-digit number. This number is also answered by telecommunicators, but it won’t tie up the line for emergency 9-1-1 calls.
Some reasons you may call the 10-digit number include:
General inquiries toward your local police or sheriff’s office
Reports of a crime that occurred in the past
Other non-emergency situations
It’s also important to memorize your local 10-digit non-emergency number in case 9-1-1 should fail. Though this is unlikely, it’s important for you and your family to have a back up plan, and the 10-digit number can still connect you to your local law enforcement agency.
We hope this clarifies the difference between 9-1-1 and your local 10-digit non-emergency number, and that you have a better understanding of what an emergency is. Remember to only call 9-1-1 if you need a response from police, fire, or EMS.
The 9-1-1 Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services Act, or H.B. 1629, was introduced into the House of Representatives on March 7, 2019. Since then, there’s been a lot of information about this legislation floating around, and we want to make sure you understand exactly what this act means for the future of 9-1-1.
“For more than 17 years, I lived through the challenges and stress 9-1-1 dispatchers experience 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dispatchers are a critical link in the public safety chain that help firefighters, EMTs, and law enforcement officers do their jobs every day,” said Torres. “I’m proud that the House took this important step forward to give the nation’s 100,000 public safety telecommunicators their due and reclassify them as the protective service occupations that they are.”
Representative Torres recently addressed the floor regarding the act:
What will it change?
Currently, a 9-1-1 telecommunicator is listed as an office and administrative support occupation in regards to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) catalog, which is developed by the United States Department of Labor. This means they are defined by the same standards as postal service workers, receptionists, secretaries, and other similar occupations. The 9-1-1 SAVES act will reclassify the role of a telecommunicator as a protective service occupation, putting them in the same category as firefighters, police officers, correctional officers, and other public safety professions.
Why does it matter?
A number of federal agencies and organizations rely on the SOC catalog for reporting and statistical purposes. By recategorizing telecommunicators to a classification that better suits the ever day reality of their job, theses agencies will have more accurate information to base decisions off of. This change will also allow telecommunicators to identify as first responders in other federal legislation and equip them to make the argument for similar benefits.
When will it pass?
As of today, the 9-1-1 SAVES Act has passed in the House and is on its way to the Senate. It also has a related bill, S.1015, in the Senate that mirrors the language in H.B. 1629. S.1015 has been introduced but has not as yet be assigned to a committee.
The act has to go through the following steps before it becomes law:
What can you do?
As a 9-1-1 telecommunicator, a member of local law enforcement, a community leader, or even as a citizen and constituent, you have pull over your legislators’ decision making. So make sure your voice is heard.
At the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District, we pride ourselves on our commitment to innovation, but we aren’t just after the shiniest, newest tech. We are first always looking out for our PSAPs and telecommunicators, and our job is to help them do their job by giving them the tools, training, and support they need. As Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) continues to gain ground and as more and more new technologies dominate our lives, we have to adopt new digital strategies to accomplish this goal.
Over the years, we’ve adopted a significant number of NG9-1-1 tools, which means we’ve had a lot of experiences that taught us some valuable lessons. We wanted to share these to help other 9-1-1 entities strategize for NG9-1-1 implementation.
Involve your TCs from the start
There’s nothing worse than having a change thrown at you out of the blue. Even if that change is going to help you do your job in the end. Talk to your TCs long before the new change or innovation is implemented and get their opinions on the best way to do it. The more your team hears about the upcoming change, the easier it will be for them to adapt, and they may be able to point something out that you had previously not considered. This means that you need to take their suggestions seriously. Don’t make a show of wanting to hear from the telecommunicators just to please them and then ignore their requests. Though we know that some ideas might not be feasible for implementation, going out of your way to hear concerns and adopt as much as possible will let your team know that you’re on their side.
Before we adopted a lot of our innovative tools, like supplemental location accuracy or crowd-sourced data collecting, we held meetings, focus groups, and other discussions with representatives from our PSAPs so that we could better understand how they would be affected. This was a lesson we learned early on from one of our first NG9-1-1 projects after we were told that our TCs wanted more of a say in the implementation process. Though we included our PSAP Supervisor Committee in these early conversations, our telecommunicators wanted an even more inclusive conversation with other PSAP personnel. We heard them, and we adapted.
Develop appropriate training that mimics a live environment
When NCT9-1-1 switched our call-handling solution for all 43 of our PSAPs, we knew that extensive training would be necessary to help our TCs adapt to the change. But we hit a road block when we discovered that some of our PSAPs were encountering different scenarios with the new solution in a live environment that were not present in that controlled training environment. Luckily, our training coordinator was flexible and able to adjust her lessons to meet these needs, but we learned then how important it was to have a training resource that would mimic what our TCs were actually seeing day-to-day.
Training can go beyond your TCs as well. Training the trainer is the first step to ensuring a smooth transition and training the staff members implementing the new solution so that they can answer telecommunicator questions is more valuable than you might think. Everyone involved in the process should know as much information as you can possibly give them, as this allows everyone to be on the same page and prevents miscommunication early on, which can lead to larger consequences down the road.
It’s also important to push for all of your telecommunicators to attend the training sessions, not just one representative as this might cause mistranslations of certain aspects of the system.
Communicate across silos
For a significant technological implementation, there are going to be a lot of people involved, which means a lot of varying opinions. For most of our NG9-1-1 implementations, we had 2 to 3 teams engaged, plus vendors and other stakeholders, and then the telecommunicators themselves. Everyone had a different idea of why this change was happening and what was the best way to do it. Before we realized how important it was to get everyone on the same page early on, we had issues of miscommunication between teams that led to a longer process overall. This meant that our technology team might have one idea of the best way to display a solution, while the operations team had another. Where a compromise could have been identified early on in the planning stages, one instead had to be made in the middle of the project, which slowed things down. Now we make an effort to ensure this discussion is had early on with all participating parties.
Change is coming to 9-1-1 with the adoption of Next Generation and it can improve your telecommunicators’ daily tasks if implemented correctly. Citizens utilize technology more and more, but public safety is still adapting to this new world. By planning ahead and communicating effectively, adopting NG9-1-1 doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
We don’t get to choose if or when an emergency strikes. We always advise 9-1-1 callers to stay calm and answer all of the telecommunicator’s questions but being prepared and knowing what to expect can help both you and the telecommunicator. You will always be asked to confirm your location regardless of the scenario, so be prepared to give your address and location, especially if you’re calling on a cell phone. This post will talk about how to call 9-1-1 in three different scenarios.
A Car Accident
Citizens have to call 9-1-1 to report a car accident they witnessed or were involved in. As always, the telecommunicator will need to know your location, but they may need some additional information to assist first responders like the direction of travel. Tell the call taker your direction of travel or the city you are driving towards. This will help them direct responders to approach the accident in the right direction.
The telecommunicator may also ask additional questions such as how many vehicles or persons are involved in the accident and if there are any injuries or road blockage. Listen carefully, stay calm, and answer all questions. Remember that your answers will help responders work with more efficiency once they arrive, and that the telecommunicator is not slowing response time by asking for these details. Telecommunicators are trained to simultaneously dispatch help and talk with caller, so don’t hang up until they say it’s okay.
A Suspicious Person
If you need to report a break in, a shop lifter, or someone acting suspiciously in a public place, you may need to describe a person to the telecommunicator. You’ll be asked a series of questions to help the responding officers locate the suspect, so try to remember these identifying features:
-Clothing, including the color and type of material (Jeans versus khakis, for example)
-Identifying scars, marks, or tattoos
-Eye color or hair color
Additional information may include a variety of things, but some common ones may be whether the suspect has a weapon, is intoxicated or on drugs, or the suspect’s vehicle information. While this information is vital, never put yourself into harm’s way to obtain it. Remember to stay on the line until the call taker says it is okay to hang up.
A False Call
Whether you accidentally dial or catch your young child calling 9-1-1 to “test it,” there is one rule you should always remember: Don’t hang up. Telecommunicators must call back all 9-1-1 hang-ups, and if you don’t pick up, they might send someone to check on you. The best thing to do if you make a false call to 9-1-1 is to stay on the line, explain the situation, and again always wait until the call taker gives you permission to hang up. This will save time in the long run and prevent any misunderstandings or unwanted to house calls.
There are lots of reasons why you may need to call 9-1-1, and we can’t possibly cover them all. However, if you remember to confirm your location, answer all questions, and stay on the line, then you’ll be able to help the telecommunicator help you.