By Gordon Williams

September is National Preparedness Month and part of being prepared is making sure your children know how to call 9-1-1 when help is urgently needed.

In an ideal situation, an adult will call 9-1-1 when police, fire or medical help is needed urgently; speak calmly; and stay on the line until all the dispatcher’s  questions have been answered.

But what if an adult is not able to make the call? What if a child is home alone when fire breaks out or and adult falls dangerously ill?

To help families prepare for emergencies, Verizon has created step-by-step instructions titled “Teaching Children How to Call 9-1-1.” First, make sure children know they should call  9-1-1 when they see a fire or smell smoke, when someone is injured in an accident, when someone is having a heart attack or is struggling to breathe; when they see a crime being committed; and if they become lost or separated from you.

Even if they are unsure if the situation is an emergency, they should go ahead with the call. The operator at 9-1-1 will decide quickly if help is needed. It is better to take up a few minutes of the operator’s time than to not call when help is needed.

A landline is best, but if one isn’t available your child should know how to call from your mobile phone. If there is a lock on your mobile phone, teach the child how to unlock it. To practice an emergency call, children can call a relative (not 9-1-1) or use the “Teach Your Children to call 9-1-1” simulator.

According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), it is important for young children to be able to reach at least one phone in their home, be able to state their name and address, and stay on the line until instructed to hang up. Making up a song that states their name, phone number and address can be helpful for young children. Teach them to describe a few local landmarks if your home is hard to find.

If they call 9-1-1 by mistake, tell children to wait for someone to answer. If no one is on the line when the call is answered, the dispatcher will send police or fire to your address to check on your well-being.

When you are teaching young kids about emergency calls, refer to the number as nine-one-one, not nine-eleven. Under the stress of an emergency, a child might waste time serching for an eleven on the keypad.

Even phones that are not connected to a wireless carrier can make emergency calls. If your child plays with an outdated mobile phone, remove the battery.

Finally, children should know that prank calls to 9-1-1 take up a dispatcher’s time that could be spent on an actual emergency and will be dealt with by local law enforcement agencies.

With so many people working and learning at home due to COVID19, now is a great time to teach children how to make emergency calls as part of your family’s preparedness plan.

American Red Cross Northwest Region

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