GREENFIELD — Hancock County dispatchers are reaching out to local schoolchildren to teach them when and how to call for help in an emergency in recognition of April as National 911 Awareness Month.
The Emergency Operations Center’s 911 program for kids is available year-round, but dispatchers are making a concerted effort this month to connect with school administrators about working 911 safety into their elementary school curriculum.
Hancock County 911 for Kids, a 30-minute free program, is geared toward children in kindergarten through third grade, but it can be tailored toward older groups of children as well.
The 911 program is funded entirely by donations, which go toward the purchase of educational materials and handouts for the kids.
Dispatchers say anyone who doubts the importance of children knowing how to dial 911 and give operators information need only hear the January 2010 recording of Savannah Hensley of Greenfield.
When her father found himself short of breath and unable to speak, Savannah, who was 5 at the time, took over the 911 call. She was able to calmly and clearly tell dispatchers her address and explain what was happening, two key things 911 operators need in order to dispatch the proper emergency responders.
Her call is considered such a good example of the importance of 911 awareness that it has become part of the program dispatchers are sharing with area youngsters.“She was able to speak clearly, and … she was able to get the answers,” dispatcher Pam Towle said. “She talked very, very good for a 5-year-old.”
The 911 program is comprised of several parts, including instruction on tasks as simple as using the phone to call for help.
When dispatchers hold up a rotary telephone, for example, many cellphone-savvy kids react with puzzlement.
Dispatchers go over the basics of dialing rotary phones, normal landline phones and cellphones. They also point out that any cellphone – even that old one tossed in a drawer – has 911 capabilities if there’s enough battery power to make a call.
Memorizing addresses and learning how to describe their surroundings are also important aspects of 911 education, dispatcher Teresa Helton said.
For children who go to day care, a friend’s or baby sitter’s after school, it’s important to know those addresses as well as a home address, she said.
And in the age of cellphones, it’s no longer safe to assume a dispatcher knows the caller’s location automatically. Without an address, dispatchers depend on the caller to tell them where help is needed.
“We’ve had to call cell companies before and try to look up addresses and phone numbers and all that,” Towle said. “We will do everything that we can to try to (find you), but I think that’s a big huge misconception.”
The EOC occasionally receives calls from children who think calling 911 is a fun prank, but it’s rare, and dispatchers hope to keep it that way by educating children about what they do.
“… We just want to make sure it doesn’t become a problem,” Towle said. “It’s a pre-emptive strategy more than anything, more than trying to correct a problem.”