April is National 911 Education Month

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor,

     It may be a surprise to folks to learn that April is National 911 Education Month. In tandem, the week of April 9-15 is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. Say what!?

     Well let’s do a little educating.

     Did you know that 911calls placed in Jones County are routed to the Jones County Sheriff’s Office? It doesn’t matter if the call is for law enforcement, your local fire department or ambulance assistance. The calls are answered and services dispatched from this one center. The center is officially known as the public safety answering point or PSAP, and it is located in the lower level of the Jones County Courthouse.

     Anyone can use 911 so it’s important that people know how and when to use this national service. First, knowing when to use 911, and no it’s not ok to call 911 because your pizza delivery is late. Simplistically, calling 911 is reserved for those cases where your life or property are in or have been in imminent danger; such as a car accident, a structure fire, assaults or a traffic hazard on a roadway. Hopefully you get the idea. Prank and general information-type calls are NOT ok! They could very well delay someone in real danger from getting assistance when it is needed, plus it would land you in legal trouble.

     Invariably, having to make that 911 call is understandably stressful. You have something bad to report; the key is to stay calm and to collect your thoughts. That’s a tall order, believe me, but critical to getting help as fast as possible. The dispatcher is trained to ask specific questions to get you the right help at the right location as expediently as possible. So answer them succinctly. It is doubly important to not hang-up before the dispatcher releases you from the call. As the emergency circumstances evolve, the dispatcher needs to be able to pass that information on to those responding. That dispatcher is your first line of defense and is a vital link between you and the folks coming to help.

     In the “old days” of landline phones when a 911 call was placed, it was much simpler to discern a location of an emergency. In today’s world, it is estimated that nationally over 70 percent of 911 calls are placed by cell phone. Meaning anyone can be anywhere and place a 911 call. This poses some interesting challenges, pinpointing the caller’s location being the biggest. Compound that with the caller maybe being new to the area or just traveling through, and I think you get the point. With many smart phones having global positioning, the answer to the question “Where are we?” is improving. However, not all cell phone calls can be pinpointed to the caller’s location. So you need to be ready to provide a more precise location. Here again, when in a stressful situation, this can be really hard; stay cool; and 911 dispatcher will help you figure it out.

     While talking about cell phone 911 calls, you may recall as published in the newspaper a couple weeks ago, it is now possible in Jones County to place an emergency text message to the 911 call center. There are things to remember if you are considering placing a text 911 message. Principally texting 911 should only be used when the circumstances make you unable to make a voice call. And you have to have a data plan.

     To place a 911 text, just enter 911 in the “To” field. Your message should be brief and contain the emergency’s location and type of help needed, then press the send key. Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the dispatcher. Text in simple words; DO NOT USE ABBREVIATIONS; keep the message brief and concise.

     There are a few other things you should know about texting to 911. Location information is not provided. You must be able to explain where help is needed. 911 text messages can take longer to receive and get out of order or may not be received. Text to 911 is not available if your cell service is roaming. Not all cell providers allow text to 911 in this area. If text to 911 is not available or temporary unavailable, you will receive a “bounce-back” message indicating that texting to 911 is not available and to contact 911 by other means. Photos and videos cannot be sent to 911 at this time. Text to 911 cannot include more than one person. And do not send your emergency text to anyone other than 911; and finally, DO NOT TEXT AND DRIVE.

     Here is one last informational bit; that old cell phone in your catchall drawer that has been disconnected, well, it can still place a 911 call so don’t let the kids play with it unless you have removed the battery.

     If you would like to learn more about 911, please call me, your Jones County 911 Coordinator. Office house are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

     And finally, be sure to thank your Jones County 911 dispatchers, especially during National Telecommunications Week. The one week each year set aside to recognize these most important links in the emergency chain. They are the unseen heroes as they are the first-first responders in your time of crisis.

Gary Schwab

Jones Co. E911 Coordinator

Anamosa, Iowa


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