Teaching Kids 911: When to Call, What to Expect

Keeping calm in an emergency -- tough for adults, and even tougher for young kids. But for 911 operators to get them help, they need to know how not to panic. 

Those operators use much simpler language when talking to kids, and they ask more questions to get basic info.

But it's still up to parents to talk to their kids about when to call 911 and how to be ready in case they need to.

Howard Harris answers around 140 911 calls a day at the Bell County Communications Center.

He talks to kids differently from adults.

"You have to try to stick with the facts and basically find out what they see immediately around them," Harris said.

He shows that in a call he took in April from two kids lost in the woods.

"What do you see around you?" Harris can be heard asking the 7-year-old who called.

"I see trees and blue lights," the child responds. He then goes on to describe power lines with big concrete bases, which helped Harris track him down. "Do you see a road near you?" he asks later in the 30-minute call.

It's important for kids to stay calm and just answer the questions as best they can. Another call from a 10-year-old in Killeen earlier in the year illustrates that, too.

"They were going down Lake Road," the kid says, describing a man clinging to the top of a moving car. "Do you know where the Dollar General is on Lake Road?" he asks the operator.

"Uh huh," he responds, so the child continues: "Yeah, that's where they are."

"Is it a two-door or a four-door?" the 911 operator asks later, trying to get more information on the car, which is only described so far as silver. "Four-door," the 10-year-old responds.

Bell County operators field an average of 530 calls a day from all over the county, and unfortunately, too many of them are kids just playing around with the phone.

A good way to make sure they know when to call and when not to -- practice. 

"Use an unplugged phone or a toy phone or whatever and let them call 911," said Cpl. Christopher Wilcox with the Temple Police Department.

Run through the basics with them: What's your name? Where are you? Is anyone else there with you?

"Let the child tell you what's going on," Wilcox said.

So, when the real thing happens, they can keep calm, and help operators help them.

You should also tell your kids not to give information about themselves to anyone who asks. Emergency operators are there to help, so make sure they know the difference.


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