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Public safety First response 101

Tips for understanding your surroundings in case of an emergency

On December 22, 2022

When you need it, your local public safety professionals are ready and prepared to help. That said, if first responders can’t find you, they can’t help you. It’s easy to get flustered in a high stress situation like an emergency, but paying attention to the details a bit more in your everyday life can help you prepare for these unfortunate moments. By understanding your surroundings and having situational awareness, you should be able to quickly locate yourself and/or the emergency and provide the information needed for the first responders. 


The Basics

The most important piece of information you need when calling 9-1-1 is your location. It’s a common misconception that 9-1-1 dispatchers can pin-point your exact location through the call – they may have some GPS data to gain information on your location, but it is not 100% accurate and cannot solely be relied on. Check out our article on Texting vs Calling 9-1-1 to understand the limits of GPS locating in emergencies.


Situational awareness is being aware of what is happening around you in terms of where you are, and whether anyone or anything around you is a threat to your health and safety. Be sure to take extra note of these details to help you be prepared in case of emergency:

  • Any addresses you frequent.
  • Nearby landmarks.
  • Different types of signs, numbers, or businesses.
    • These can be found over doors, on buildings, on mailboxes, or on the curb.
  • Keep in mind who is around you and what they are doing. You never know what information could be useful.
  • Alternate routes or points of entry/exit.

If you know where you are, you’ll want to provide the exact address of the emergency. But when an emergency occurs in an unfamiliar location, these are some key points you can provide to the 9-1-1 dispatchers to help emergency responders find you:

  • Find a street address by looking outside, asking someone for help, or checking for any mail or other documents.
  • If possible, you can use the GPS location on your phone by using your maps app for a general address. Flag down first responders as they arrive.
  • Look for nearby businesses and/or landmarks to describe your location. However, landmarks with no address associated with them are less helpful, but still useful. For example, 'the Coca-Cola billboard'. The dispatchers or first responders will have to hope someone on the team knows where that is.

On The Road

Situational awareness, while driving, means making mental notes of the names and highway numbers you are traveling, nearby exits, and the last mile marker you passed. Also note the name/number of the last exit you passed. You can use a map app to see this information. 


Note cross roads and major intersections. Road aliases can cause confusion (County Road 13 may change names; a community may have many streets with similar names, e.g. Peavine Rd. Peavine St, etc). As you drive, stay aware of clues that would help identify your location.


Calling for Someone Not With You

There may be a need to call 9-1-1 to send help to an at–risk person in another city or state. Especially with social media, it can get complicated. Still, call 9-1-1 to get the ball rolling. Calling 9-1-1 goes to your dispatch center. Your call center can help find the correct agency closest to the victim. The more info you can provide about where your friend is located (address, phone number, names of relatives or friends), the more likely it is they can be found. 


Alternatively, if possible, Google the non-emergency line in that area and tell them it’s an emergency. Be clear you are not in the same location as the person. 


Final Thoughts

If you are reporting an emergency:

  • Get to a safe place before calling. Do not 'go back' into a dangerous situation.
  • If applicable, do not pursue the criminal. 
  • Calling 9-1-1 before posting to social media, calling others, etc.
  • Report important information about the event, victims, and suspects (vehicle/clothing descriptions, race, direction of travel, and/or identifying marks).

When going about your everyday life, it's easy to overlook details that could possibly prove useful to you and the first responders. By paying more attention and taking mental notes of these tips, you'll be able to relay necessary information more quickly to dispatchers –  ultimately helping yourself or those in need faster. Finally, don't forget to educate your children on how to call 9-1-1 and the information they should know and be able to communicate. 

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