Three simple numbers, that when properly used, are the most effective way to summon help during any emergency situation in which there is an immediate threat to persons or property. 911 is an access point for police, fire and medical emergency services. The emphasis on this service is an immediate threat to person or property. Examples would be floods, fires, prowlers, verbal or physical altercations, traffic accidents, erratic drivers or conditions requiring immediate medical attention. Any time you are involved in or are witnessing an incident where an urgent response from public safety personnel is required, please call 911 immediately.

Public Safety Dispatchers have, in my opinion, the most difficult job in their field. Dispatchers field hundreds of calls every day and serve as the lifeline for emergency personnel. At the same time Dispatchers are answering multiple phone lines, taking 911 calls and directing officers where to respond, they are also monitoring the radio traffic of allied agencies to ensure the safety of emergency personnel and the public. As the first point of contact for public safety, Dispatchers have to be calm and reassuring to callers during tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving situations.

Unfortunately, 911 is often misused by those who are not reporting emergencies or by children playing on the phone; therefore, let's discuss some appropriate situations where 911 should and should NOT be used:

Some examples of when using 911 is NOT appropriate would be vandalisms that are not in-progress, thefts or other property calls with an unknown occurrence time (i.e. you wake up in the morning to find your car has been broken into). Noise complaints and loose dogs are a couple more examples of when one should call the public Police Department phone line at 527-3131. Also, 911 is not an information line so do not use it to ask for the police, sheriff’s department, hospital or any other public or private phone numbers.

"What do I need to tell the dispatcher when I do call 911?" In most cases, the dispatcher will attempt to obtain information about where an incident is occurring, what exactly is occurring and when did it occur. That information helps the Dispatcher prioritize calls for service and dispatch personnel accordingly. Dispatchers will also ask who is involved including names, dates of birth, phone numbers etc., and whether there are any weapons involved. The Dispatcher may ask you to repeat information or ask you clarifying questions you may feel are irrelevant. Please be patient and calm and try to speak clearly. While you are speaking with the Dispatcher, they are simultaneously providing the same information to emergency personnel responding to the scene via radio.

Do not be offended if you are not asked to provide detailed information regarding incidents like traffic accidents or fires. This is because during such incidents, the Dispatcher will often receive several calls and may already have enough information needed to handle the situation effectively. However, never assume that someone else has already called in to report what you see. What you are seeing or hearing may be important to public safety personnel, so please call. If you are hesitant to call because you do not want your identity known, you can remain anonymous. Additionally, during a critical incident where several 911 lines are ringing at the same time, Dispatchers must answer each call to determine if someone is calling regarding an already reported incident or if they may be reporting an unrelated emergency. Please wait on the line until your call is answered.

Dispatchers have a difficult job, which requires attention to detail, the ability to multitask, and requires them to remain calm in uncertain situations until help arrives. Imagine answering a telephone call from a distraught parent whose child is choking or from a motorist who just witnessed a vehicle run over a pedestrian. Dispatchers are instrumental in summoning help in a variety of emergency situations every day. To all public safety Dispatchers, "Thank you very much for the job you do!"

555 Washington Street  •  Red Bluff, CA 96080  •  (530) 527-3131
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