View Full Version : 911 Protocols

Capt. Charlie
February 10, 2007, 11:26 PM
We recently responded to a report of a home invasion in progress, which almost ended in tragedy, because in spite of having a valid address, officers had a great deal of difficulty in locating the house. The dispatch tapes were absolutely chilling; the homeowner was screaming as he was being beaten by the suspect, and valuable seconds were lost trying to locate him.

The problem, and the fault, were two-fold. One problem, which is frequently encountered by first responders in many areas, is an inconsistency in addresses, and a failure of homeowners to post clear, easily seen house numbers that are highly visible from the street.

The second problem was the lack of information provided by the caller to 911. Simply providing a house number and street name are often not enough.

Hearing those tapes prompted me to post this thread. A lot of you folks have plans in place (or should have) in the event of a home invasion, or other emergency, but how many of you have considered what information will be crucial to 911 dispatchers? Most simply have in their game plan, "call 911".

T'ain't enough.

Here's a few things to help first responders find you easier and faster:

1. First and foremost, 911 is for true emergencies only! Don't call it because your cat's up a tree or there's a car blocking your driveway. Even enhanced 911 systems only have so many trunk lines, and they can be bogged down with BS calls.

2. Take a deep breath and speak slowly and clearly. The extra second or two it takes to do that can literally take minutes off responder's response time.

3. Give information to dispatch in the order of importance. 911 systems show your name and address, even if you have caller ID blocked, so state the nature of the emergency first, then address, name, etc.

4. If at all possible, stay on the line until 911 releases you. Dispatchers will frequently take only the most important information first and put you on hold to get units rolling. They will then get back to you for more detailed information.

5. Don't just give a street address. Give a brief description of the building as well. Information such as "It's a yellow frame 2-story house with a red brick porch", and "It's the 5th house from the corner of Main Street" will help a lot. Remember that, especially in home invasion calls, units will also respond to the rear of the building, where there usually are no house numbers.

6. Try to advise dispatch where entry is being attempted. Ex: North side 1st story window, back door, etc.

7. If you can, let them know how many people are involved, and a brief but distinct description. This can be as simple as a "younger/older White/Black/Asian male with a red dew rag" Anything that makes that person or people stand out, will help. Often times suspects flee upon the approach of police, and we often find them calmly walking down the street, several blocks away, thinking if they play it cool, we won't know who they are. Even a partial description gives us reason for a Terry stop.

8. Let dispatch know how many innocents are in the house, and where they are.

9. If you are going to take an active roll in defense of your family, give dispatch your description, including clothing, and advise them that you are armed, where in the house you are, and what action you're taking. (Nice job, Lurper ;) ) You want responding officers to recognize you instantly! I have come damned close to shooting a homeowner several times because after calling police, he went wandering around outside with a firearm.

10. If possible, and if you are going to take physical action, have another family member man the phone. All your attention needs to centered on your actions, and not divided by talking on the phone.

Your conversation with 911 can be every bit as important as your defensive actions. Discuss these with your family next time you go over your game plan.

I've probably missed a few points since these are mostly off the top of my head. If any other first responders here, including firefighters and paramedics, can think of anything else, by all means, chime in.

Billy Sparks
February 11, 2007, 06:15 AM
Capt. Charlie, you make some very good points and to add on to your post if I may. If you are calling for a medical or fire emergency turn porch lights or outside lights on. If you can send someone outside to flag the unit down. If the location is near a commercial or other type of property let the dispatcher know. When you are looking for 312 Main Street it is easier if you know it is across the street from the Library.

February 11, 2007, 11:08 AM
Good tips, Cap.

But if you are in an urban area, number 2 could actually be sort of a problem. Operators on these lines get used to hearing "He shootin! #$&^% he shootin! Aaaaaw lord he shootin!" or something simmilar when there is a violent situation taking place. It's what they expect to hear. If you sound too calm, they may not take you seriously. Clear communication is good, but if you sound like an air-traffic controller they may not believe that the situation is as bad as you say.

Capt. Charlie
February 11, 2007, 01:42 PM
Clear communication is good, but if you sound like an air-traffic controller they may not believe that the situation is as bad as you say.
I understand what you're saying, Bill, and you make a good point. When someone is just a little too calm while reporting a violent crime in progress, it does ring my alarm bells. It can suggest a prank call, or worse yet, a setup (and that's not paranoia; it's happened a number of times across the Country.)

But even while excited, you can still gain self control and speak clearly. Having to play dispatch tapes back several times to decipher what a caller is saying happens frequently, and that takes precious minutes. Anyone that's ever awaited help during an emergency knows how long those minutes can seem.

Dean C
February 11, 2007, 03:35 PM
I have a product I helped develope many years ago called the Phlasher. It is a light switch that has a third position. That third position causes the lights on that circuit to strobe. Used primarily on the front porch lights. There is also an audible tone inside that lets the homeowner know the lights are flashing. We equipped an entire fire distric in Watcom County WA with them for data gathering. We actually had a situation where the homeowner just turned on the switch without calling 911 (phones were out). A neighbor saw the light, ran over to find the gentleman of the house having a heart attack and called 911. The man was saved.

The intent of the switch was to cause the lights to flash and give the responders an easy to find target.

It didn't catch on although it someday might.


Bob F.
February 11, 2007, 04:34 PM
Capt Charlie: Good post! I need to put a sign post in the yard. Been threatening to for a couple years--steel set in concrete so the little hoodlums can't tear it down without damage to vehicle. Have # on house but not visible enough. Also, need to call EOC and make sure they have my new phone # & address.

Also, my sis lives down the river in Wheeling, strictly condition WHITE! Y'all have many home invasions around the panhandle?

Dean C: Phlasher still available? I keep a light stick near the door to toss out.

Stay safe.

February 11, 2007, 09:16 PM
There is something available on this website:


It replaces your normal light switch. I have never tried one of these, but it does seem like a good idea.

To the staff: As a newbie, is it OK to post a link like this?
If not, please delete this posting and accept my apologies.

Capt. Charlie
February 11, 2007, 09:26 PM
Also, my sis lives down the river in Wheeling, strictly condition WHITE! Y'all have many home invasions around the panhandle?
Like any city, Wheeling has some bad areas, but overall, I'd say it's one of the safer places to live. Note that safer still doesn't rate condition white ;) .

To the staff: As a newbie, is it OK to post a link like this?
Not a problem, JD; although Dean's liable to view it as a patent infringement ;) :D .

February 11, 2007, 10:00 PM
"too calm " ?? After all the time I've spent learning about and experiencing emergency communications and doing everything clear and concise in Amateur Radio you want me to get hysterical ? I've heard many 911 calls where hysterical people greatly delay help. I recently had to call 911 for an ambulance and I did my best to do it clear and concise .I'll keep it that way !!:p ....OT do they still have areas in Wheeling where you can still get booze , gambling ,women even on Sunday ? There were some interesting places there 35 years ago !

February 12, 2007, 10:05 AM
Oops! I re-read Dean's post and did see that he helped develop one of these!
I did a little further searching and found Recoton (a HUGE electrical products manufacturer) sells these now.

I guess Dean needs to go after them and get a piece of their action! 8-)


February 12, 2007, 10:52 AM
Just to add one thing: DON'T hang up the phone after you've dialled "911", even if you haven't spoken with a dispatcher. Almost all agencies will send a police unit to the location of a "911" call, even if no one has spoken from the origination location. The system is set up to process addresses, even if you have an unlisted phone number. If you can't speak on the phone, the dispatcher won't know what the emergency might be, so it will be sent as an "unknown trouble" type of radio call.

Many cell phones have GPS tracking installed, so a "911" call location MAY be able to be located, but not on a 100% basis. If you need help, try to call on a "land line" FIRST, and if you have to leave your residence, take along your cell phone and call the police AGAIN. That way, the dispatcher can cross-reference both calls to the one location and receive further information from you on your cell phone even though you're no longer in your residence.

As a side story, I responded to a "dead body" call as a LEO several years back. The deceased man had been found by his next-door neighbor. The deceased man turned out to be the electronic engineer who had come up with the idea of the original "911" emergency system. He died of natural causes when he was in his late 80's, had never been married, but his home was meticulous. From the way it appeared, he must have had a massive heart attack, but had TRIED to get to one of his telephones! Sort of ironic, in that he probably had NEVER used the "911" system for his own safety!

February 13, 2007, 10:51 PM
When I was an EMT in Virginia Beach, we advocated the use of the front light flasher. Nothing annoyed me more than having to search for a house number at 3 am, and then going into a dwelling and finding 8 people there plus the patient. Hey, ya think one of you guys could have stepped out to the curb and flagged down the ambulance!

For a while we had a project in our first run area where we would go to someones house and paint an 8 x 12 black rectangle at the very end of the driveway, and paint the house number in yellow within the black rectangle.
Just be sure you don't park anything over the stencil.

Dean C
February 17, 2007, 08:39 AM
Guess I got some diggin' to do. Thanks for the tip.

February 17, 2007, 09:39 AM
1. First and foremost, 911 is for true emergencies only! Don't call it because your cat's up a tree or there's a car blocking your driveway...Sorry, Capt, I only got this far into your post when I had to comment.

In this area, EVERY call to ANY local police station (by calling the PD direct number and not 911) gets routed to the local 911 center, where they ask you what your emergency is. The only difference is that the 911 center doesn't see where the call is coming from (no caller ID info gets to the 911 dispatcher on these calls).

February 17, 2007, 01:47 PM
Your PD does not have a specific non-emergency number listed? Well if they don't, I guess they can't really complain if the non-emergencies get routed to 9-1-1 then. I'd dig deeper if I were you, but if you've checked already then you've checked already and I'll have to believe you.

Doesn't make it any more practical though...