[Listen] 911 Is a Joke: Emergency Calls Exhibit a Broken System

[Listen] 911 Is a Joke: Emergency Calls Exhibit a Broken System

John Oliver takes on the emergency number and reveals its flaws.

Published May 17th

(Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Most of us remember being told from a young age that in any case of an emergency, we should dial 9-1-1. After the line is called, you are supposed to inform the dispatcher of your emergency and help should be sent immediately, right? Well, over the last few years, many reports have shown that there are tremendous flaws in our emergency protocol system.

HBO’s Last Week Tonight host John Oliver covered a story over the weekend that explained the deteriorating systems of 9-1-1. The issues he explored ranged from improper use of the phone line to antiquated technology that inhibits a responder’s ability to locate and help a caller.

A report in Jackson County, Iowa, revealed that there are 10 non-emergency calls for every one legitimate emergency. This is a problem because dispatchers are required to stay on the line, even if the call is about pizza. That’s right; one caller repeatedly dialed 9-1-1 to complain about a delayed pizza order. Calls like this jam up the line and take away important time for real emergencies.

In his segment, John Oliver spoke about similar examples but also highlighted the flawed GPS capabilities of the emergency phone line. Although companies like Uber and Domino’s have technology that allows them to pinpoint your exact location on a mobile phone, 9-1-1 dispatchers still do not have the same abilities. Often times, the location of the cell tower that helps to reveal a cell caller’s location is usually quite a distance away from the actual call.

The issues covered in the show do not even begin to cover the extreme incompetency of many dispatchers. There have been recordings of dispatchers acting rudely or dismissive to callers, which again is a major problem. Many local 9-1-1 dispatching offices are completely understaffed, so it is crucial that those working have the utmost professionalism. Of course, all non-emergency calls are probably infuriating, but everyone needs to be treated with respect.  

When it comes to the emergency line, it’s important that everyone know what is an emergency and what is not. If there is a life or death situation, then 9-1-1 should be dialed, otherwise, all calls should be directed to your local non-emergency dispatch so that callers in dire need aren’t kept on hold. And if you don’t know the number to your local dispatch, do everyone a favor right now and go to Google and look it up

Check out the John Oliver segment and some outrageously incompetent 9-1-1 calls below. 

Written by Rachel Herron

(Photo: PhotoAlto/James Hardy/Getty Images)

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