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Teaching kids and teens about 9-1-1

Editor’s note: This is the second story in an ongoing series highlighting National 9-1-1 Education Month

PRINCETON – Dawn Porter, BuEComm 911 education coordinator, visits various classrooms each year to familiarize students with 9-1-1 and its importance.

It’s her belief that when children start learning colors, numbers and ABCs, they should also begin memorizing their address, phone number and how to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency.

“They should know that as well as how to tie their shoes,” she said. “It’s amazing to me that we get some very young ones, as young as 4, who know about 9-1-1.”

Throughout her years as 9-1-1 education coordinator, the one, big mistake she’s recognized is parents threatening their child with the police. If ever in a real emergency, this could create hesitation from a child needing to dial for help, she said.

“(Parents) have to teach their kids that police officers, the fire department, the ambulance and dispatchers are their friends and are there to help them,” she said.

Another important tip is to teach kids to dial 9-1-1 from the main phone in the house – whether it be a cellphone or old rotary phone. Never assume kids know how to dial from any type of phone, Porter said. Dialing from a regular home phone is different from dialing from a cellphone.

For parents who let kids play with old cellphones, remember to take the battery out before handing it over. Diana Stiles, BuEComm director, said a number of “gurgling babies” have been known to accidentally dial 9-1-1.

As kids grow into teens, different issues arise. Porter’s big push with teens is making them understand texting 9-1-1 will not work. Also, paying attention to where they’re driving in new areas is key. Porter said BuEComm has received numerous calls from teens who have been an accident, but can’t identify their location, because they were “just following a friend.”

Another important thing for teens to remember is after a car accident, the first number that should be dialed is 9-1-1. Porter said a lot of times teens call their parents first and then parents call 9-1-1, however the problem with that is dispatchers will not be able to locate where the accident occurred. Teens should call 9-1-1 first and let 9-1-1  contact parents.

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Tips kids need to know about 9-1-1
• Know what happens when you call 9-1-1.
After you dial, the person who picks up on the other end will be someone who works at a 9-1-1 center and whose job it is to help you. They may ask you to do things to help or ask you questions. It’s important that you follow their directions. They will send someone to wherever you are and stay on the phone with you until everyone is safe.
• Never hang up.
Even if you called 9-1-1 by accident, or if you think the problem has gone away, it is important that you stay on the phone until the call taker tells you it’s alright to hang up. It is the call taker’s job to make sure you are OK and help has gotten to whoever needs it. If you aren’t about to talk or need to leave, keep the phone off the hook so that the 9-1-1 operator can hear what’s going on in the room.
• Try not to be scared.
When you call 9-1-1, you become the eyes and ears for the call taker. Help will get you much faster if you stay calm and can tell the call taker everything that’s happening and can answer the call taker’s questions.
Tips teens need to know about 9-1-1
• Know when not to call 9-1-1.
Don’t call 9-1-1 because you’re late for a date and need help finding the restaurant or because tickets to the movie you want to see are sold out. While these may be emergencies for you, they aren’t for public safety.
Let Dawn visit your classroom!
BuEComm's 9-1-1 Education Coordinator Dawn Porter is always willing to visit classrooms to teach kids about 9-1-1. To schedule an appointment contact 815-872-1420 or email
• Making prank calls to 9-1-1 is a bad idea.
It may seem fun to dial a free, easy to remember number like 9-1-1 to tell a joke or have the police sent to someone’s house just to “see what happens.” First, the 9-1-1 center will know your callback number and location. Second, you will use up resources that are needed to help people in real trouble. Third, it’s a crime.
• 9-1-1 is not as cool as you.
We know that you do most of your communicating by text message and instant message, but you cannot text to IM “9-1-1” to reach emergency services.
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