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Preparing for an emergency call

Roya Sabri | Hawaii 24/7 Reporter

When faced with an emergency, most people pick up the phone and dial 911 for help.

On the other end of the call are county dispatchers with a checklist of questions that need answers before police officers respond.

Some callers worry the questions take too much time, but police want to re-assure residents those questions don’t delay officers in starting their engines, Sgt. Travis Ing said.

According to the county Police Department website, call-takers “have been trained to ask certain questions that will prioritize the incident, locate it and speed an appropriate response.”

The Hilo dispatching office, which serves all of Hawaii County, has to use its resources efficiently.

Last month, call-takers answered around 11,000 calls. In 2012, they answered 124,847.

Seven to eight dispatchers are on duty at any time; two to three of these are call-takers.

There are 413 sworn officers in Hawaii County, ranging from 12 officers in the North Hilo District to 82 in the South Hilo patrol.

To do their job efficiently and effectively, call-takers only ask essential questions for immediate use by officers. As a call-taker talks, he types the answers.

This information shows up on the dispatcher’s screen. The dispatcher often sends field units before the caller hangs up. Police officers receive further information from dispatchers en route.

While dispatchers have the power to send police units, callers have the power to prepare. The police department has recommendations for what residents can do to prepare for emergencies.

Before the call

The purpose of 911

Civilians should only call 911 in the case of a medical or fire emergency, in a life-threatening situation, or while witnessing a crime in progress—whether or not lives are in danger.

In non-emergencies, people should call the police at 935-3311 or the fire department at 961-3311.

If a civilian calls 911 by accident, he should stay on the line to explain that he does not have an emergency. If a caller hangs up before speaking to a call-taker, dispatchers are required to call back. With no answer, police are dispatched to make sure no one is in danger.

If the line is busy

If all call-takers are busy, a distributer might answer the call. In that case, he transfers the call to the next available call-taker. If the line is busy or a recording plays, the caller should stay on the line. Calls are answered in the order they are received.

When talking to a call-taker

1. Briefly describe the incident.

“I am reporting…a car fire/an unconscious person/a crime, etc.”

2. In a fire or medical emergency the call-taker may transfer the call.

The fire department has its own dispatching procedure.

3. Let the call-taker ask questions and don’t hang up until told to do so by the dispatcher.

Callers should answer questions calmly and completely. If the situation does not allow full answers, the call-taker asks questions that require “yes” or “no” answers. If the caller is in danger, the call-taker advises the caller.

4. Be prepared to answer questions about location

Location is most important because “if we don’t have the location, we can’t help you,” Ing said.

If a call-taker receives a call from a landline, the address and a map show up on a computer screen. In this case, a call-taker must verify what he sees on the screen.

However, the computers often cannot trace cellphones, Ing said. Instead, a call-taker relies solely on information from the caller to locate the scene.

If the caller does not know the address, he should tell the call-taker the names of the street and the cross street or intersection along with landmarks.

Cellphones add further problems when their signals skip to a more distant tower. Sometimes call-takers in Hilo receive calls from Maui.

In these cases, a call-taker’s screen does not show a map and address — as with cellphone calls.

The call-taker asks questions until he discovers that the caller is on a different island and transfers the call.

To assist dispatchers in expediting the emergency procedure, a caller should describe his complete location: district, city or town, address, inside or outside, location in a building, etc.

5. Describe vehicles involved

The caller should describe the color, year, make and model of the vehicle. If the vehicle is parked, the caller should say which direction it is facing. If the vehicle is being driven, the caller should say which direction it was last seen moving.

7. In a medical emergency

After the call has ended, the police department advises callers to tend to those with a medical emergency with first aid procedure and with reassurance that help is on the way.

Pets that may interfere with emergency response should be secured and the patient’s medication should be gathered for the medical crew.

With these steps in mind, a caller may help call-takers prepare police officers. He may do this by keeping calm, observing the situation, answering questions thoroughly and trusting the team at the other end of the line.

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