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911 First response 101

What a 911 telecommunicator wants you to know

On January 6, 2022

Did you know that 911 telecommunicators have one of the most stressful jobs in the country? 


Based on this article in Business Insider, emergency dispatchers and call-takers regularly work through some of the most high-stress scenarios as compared to most other professions. The average stress tolerance score is 98.5 out of 100, which is measured by O*NET with higher scores indicating more stress on the job. Considering that when someone calls 911 it’s often one of the worst days of their personal life, it’s not too difficult to understand how this might impact the workers who answer those lines every day. 


Because 911 telecommunicators are the first point of contact between those experiencing an emergency and being able to connect them to the correct resources, it can also mean guiding those individuals through the panic, fear, and shock in order to understand their needs first. Callers are often in a wide variety of states that can make it challenging for them to communicate effectively, and call-takers need to stay calm while remaining able to adapt as the situation develops. 


Consequently, it’s easy to understand why an emergency responder would like to let you in on some basic guidelines so that if you should ever have a need to contact a particular emergency line, your call and outcome, will be much smoother. Here are some things a 911 telecommunicator want people to know.


Getting the basic information, and making sure it’s accurate

Each 911 telecommunicator has a baseline script used to obtain the important information needed to give to the first responders who will arrive to help you. It will often differ slightly depending on location and other factors, but listening clearly to the instructions from your emergency operator will ensure a quicker and more accurate response, and they understand that may be difficult in the moment of a high-stakes emergency situation.


The first question an operator usually asks will be to learn the exact location of your emergency. Until they know where you are, they can’t send the first responders to the scene. It’s extremely helpful if you have this information immediately, and you will need to confirm the nearest cross-street or intersection to ensure they know where they’re going. Then, you’ll be asked your name and the phone number from which you are calling, as well as additional details that may help first responders who arrive so they can take action quickly.




Learning more details

The next set of questions are subject to the type of event that is being reported. For law enforcement requests, the most pertinent information the 911 telecommunicators will need to understand is the nature of the crime, any suspect information, any weapons and or intoxicated parties that may be involved, as well as if an injury has been sustained. 


If a call comes in for an ambulance, there will be a series of questions based around the type of medical complaint which will include the age and sex of the patient, if the patient is conscious and breathing, understanding the primary reason for the call, and clarifying questions about their medical history if known. It may also include steps the people present, such as the caller, may need to take while response teams are being dispatched.


For fire department requests, you may be asked what is on fire, the type of occupancy or residence, and if all inhabitants are out of and away from danger. All of this is done to ensure the moment responders arrive on scene, they know what to do and who to help.


In all cases, follow-up questions and additional details will be asked in order to prepare the first responders who are heading to the scene. The objective is to give them as complete of a picture as possible to ensure help goes where it is needed most and nothing or nobody is missed.


Helping them to help yourself

In the event of an emergency where 911 is called, telecommunicators need to adapt rapidly while trying to understand callers who may be scared, intoxicated, frustrated, angry, disoriented, in pain, or any number of other emotions and conditions. Location will almost always be their first priority to establish, followed by details about the emergency, and any other additional information you may have to provide them.


A 911 telecommunicator must confirm all this information depending on locality to ensure the accuracy of the information provided. This means you may be asked to repeat yourself, and while it may seem unnecessary in the moment, it’s an important part of their protocol to ensure no time is lost as the result of a miscommunication. If you find yourself in a situation where the call-taker is repeating themselves, that’s a good indicator they are trying to get you back on track because they don’t have the complete information needed to effectively direct the first responders on their way to the scene.


Finally, while it may be difficult, the last important element is patience. Especially during a crisis, it can feel like a lifetime for 911 telecommunicators to process the information, provide it to first responders, load the right people into their vehicles, and navigate them to the emergency. However, emergency responders are experts and this process typically takes no more than a few minutes before everyone knows exactly where they need to be and what they need to do to help as effectively as possible.


First responders are almost always motivated by a desire to help, and a passion for their career. For most of us, we hope not to need them. That said, it’s important to recognize the hard work they do every day, as well as prepare ourselves the best we can if we do find ourselves calling in for their help.



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