Making lists won’t stop people from calling 911

Why you should, and shouldn’t, call 911. Wikipedia Commons

They need a proactive not a reactive approach

At the end of January, the Saskatchewan RCMP released its annual list of the top ten stupid reasons people called 911 last year. This list includes a wide variety of calls, ranging from absolutely bizarre, but slightly humorous, questions, to scenarios that need attention but should be directed to services other than the RCMP.

Although the RCMP believes that by releasing this list people will be reminded that 911 is a phone number that should only be dialed in an emergency, I disagree with the approach. In my opinion, this list isn’t an effective solution to the problem because instead of discouraging people from dialing 911, it not only highlights the astonishing lack of intelligence some people have, but ultimately fails to bring attention to the serious problem of 911 operators receiving unnecessary calls, especially if these calls occur frequently.

There are more effective ways for the RCMP to raise awareness to solve this problem, such as issuing monetary fines, showing advertisements, and adding information about how to handle emergency situations into the school curriculum.

Even though the RCMP’s list demonstrates that 911 operators receive a lot of ridiculous calls each and every year, it still doesn’t produce an effective, or positive overall change. It’s easy for people to quickly read over these ten reasons, have a laugh or two at “the idiocy behind these calls,” then push it out of their minds without considering the serious and harmful consequences that these unnecessary calls could potentially cause (as stated in an online CBC article).

​As RCMP spokesperson, Bob King, told CBC, “these calls [severely] clog up lines. Every phone call that comes in … takes time. Even if it is not something that is important [911 call operators] may [still] be on the phone with [the caller] for 3 [to] … 10 minutes”. These situations take away valuable time which could, and should, be going toward providing much needed help to a real emergency. Unfortunately, this is not emphasized in the annual list.

​Additionally, in what situations 911 should be called is not universal knowledge. For some of the reasons listed, people were experiencing valid problems and needed help and, because they didn’t know who else to call, they dialed 911 out of confusion and/or panic. While these types of calls are understandable, they are still problematic.

​Rather than taking a reactive approach and hoping that people will realize the seriousness of this problem, the RCMP should instead take a more proactive approach.

This different course of action would not only ensure that everyone is able to understand the importance of dialing 911, but would also significantly decrease the annual amount of unnecessary calls operators receive.

One method that could create more public knowledge is to add this information into elementary school curriculums. This information is essential for children to learn and, in all honesty, probably more beneficial than what elementary school kids learn currently.

Although this information may not directly relate to a core subject, it would not be too difficult to incorporate it into educational material. For example, students could be given different scenarios and asked to determine whether 911 should be called.

Teaching elementary school kids that 911 is an emergency number that should only be called “when there is a threat to life or property, such as an accident, a crime, a fire, or a medical emergency,” would ensure that children grow up with more beneficial real-world knowledge (as quoted on a SafteyBee webpage). Also, because this information is learned earlier on, it will more likely stay with these individuals throughout the course of their lives.

Secondly, the RCMP should consider creating heart-tugging TV commercials, similar to SGI’s for drinking and driving; advertisements that tell a sad story and pull at heartstrings are hard to forget. These stories have an emotional impact on the viewer, especially when they can be applied to an individual’s own life.

An effective advertisement for this situation could involve someone calling 911 with some idiotic question in an attempt to be funny and someone else trying to call 911 for an ambulance because their family member has been in a car accident and needs immediate medical attention. Unfortunately, because the 911 line is being held up, they are unable to get medical attention and pass.

I will admit that this is grim, but it’s a possibility. Media advertisements like that would greatly emphasize the importance of calling 911 only in a real emergency.

Lastly, I think a monetary fine should be applied to any individual who makes an unnecessary 911 call. If people faced some type of punishment or negative consequence for calling 911 with a bizarre question, I have no doubt that many would be strongly discouraged from calling 911 to have fun.

Unnecessarily calling 911 is a major problem that could result in tragic outcomes. Therefore, this situation is something that needs to be addressed, but also solved. While I understand that the RCMP is attempting to raise more public awareness about the seriousness of 911 as an emergency phone line, they aren’t taking the right approach. If the RCMP truly wants to solve this problem, they need to be more willing to take a different approach with proactive, rather than reactive, methods.

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