9-1-1 is not just for emergencies

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  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:17am

By Anne Kruger

Mill Creek Police Department

Last month, a frightened Mill Creek woman hiding in an upstairs closet called 9-1-1. Someone was breaking in her front door and she was home alone. Within seconds police were dispatched. Within a matter of minutes four assailants were in custody. The woman had not even hung up the phone with the 9-1-1 operator.

In another case, a citizen called 9-1-1 to report that his car had been vandalized the night before. An officer responded within the hour to take a report.

In the United States, the first catalyst for a nationwide emergency telephone number was in 1957, when the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended use of a single number for reporting fires. The code 9-1-1 was chosen because it best met the needs of all parties involved.

First, and most important, it met public requirements because it is brief, easily remembered, and can be dialed quickly. Second, because it is a unique number, never having been authorized as an office code, area code, or service code, it met the long range numbering plans and switching configurations of the telephone industry.

By design, the 9-1-1 system was to be used strictly for emergencies such as reporting a fire, a crime in progress, a life-threatening situation, or for requesting help in situations where personal injury has occurred or may occur; non-emergency requests were to be called in on a regular business line. Without doubt, the concept and implementation of a universal emergency call number has streamlined the emergency communication system and saved countless lives.

Now, however, in South Snohomish County and in many other parts of the country, the 9-1-1 system, operated locally by SnoCom Communications, has evolved and adapted to the changing needs of our community and our emergency response systems. The 9-1-1 system now functions as a dispatch service for all police requests—emergency or otherwise.

9-1-1 calls in Mill Creek, Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mukilteo, and Mountlake Terrace are routed to a trained SnoCom dispatcher whose job it is to prioritize calls based on how quickly response is needed.

Calls regarding such things as reporting lost property, vandalism complaints, or non-working street lights are considered Priority 3 and are handled as time and resources allow. Calls regarding incidents which have taken place within the past 10 minutes and do not involve serious injury receive a Priority 2 rating. Burglaries, crimes in progress, or situations where there is or may be immediate harm to person or property are given highest priority and receive immediate response.

By routing service calls through a centralized dispatch center, the police department can actually manage its manpower and resources more effectively.

Many citizens are often still reluctant to call 9-1-1 in non-emergency situations because they don’t want to interfere with “real emergencies.” If you do call the police department directly needing police services of any kind, you will, in most cases, be asked to hang up and dial 9-1-1.

When you call 9-1-1, SnoCom’s enhanced system, in most cases, allows dispatchers to immediately see the address and phone number that you are calling from. You will be asked questions to determine the type of assistance and where it is needed. If you do not need immediate assistance or are not sure if you do, don’t worry, dispatchers are trained to determine the appropriate response to your call.

If you are seeking immediate assistance, do not be concerned that the dispatcher is taking time asking questions, in most cases, aid is already on its way and additional information is being transmitted via radio as aid is enroute. In any case, do stay on the line until the dispatcher instructs you to hang up.

So, if you ever need police services whether you are reporting a noise complaint or a crime in progress, don’t hesitate—call 9-1-1—it’s not just for emergencies any more.