Updated: May 19, 2020
By Ryan Dedmon, 911 Training Institute
9-1-1… the phone number dialed in the United States for emergency police, fire, or medical services. Everyone knows the number, but not everyone knows what happens when you call it. Kaitlin Jordan and Lauren Stallings are two 9-1-1 professionals working to change that.
In 2008, Congress passed a resolution naming the month of April as “9-1-1 Education Month” to support public-safety agencies in their efforts to better educate citizens about the 9-1-1 Emergency System. A number of agencies and organizations formed a coalition to help 9-1-1 professionals develop and promote educational materials about 9-1-1 to share with citizens. Since then, many 9-1-1 communication centers have created special teams to coordinate public outreach.
Kaitlin Jordan is the Public Education Specialist at Charleston County Consolidated 9-1-1 Center in Charleston, South Carolina, where she has served for five years. Her agency dispatches several law enforcement, fire rescue and EMS agencies in the county. The agency’s Public Education Division, which Jordan spearheads, is comprised of three people. She is primarily responsible for managing the agency’s social media channels, which include Facebook and Instagram. She takes photographs and videos that are then used to create content for public posts made on social media. Jordan also fills in working the dispatch floor part-time when necessary.
“9-1-1 education is important in general [not just in April],” says Jordan. “But 9-1-1 Education Month is important because it sparks a fire among government agencies, news media and the public about what to do in an emergency.”
9-1-1 is specifically reserved for reporting incidents that require emergency police, fire, or medical response. But emergencies are usually unpredictable, so few people plan on ever having to call 9-1-1.
Charleston County Consolidated 9-1-1 has three main messages they focus on sharing to better prepare citizens in case they do have to call for help: 1) Call if you Can, Text if you Can’t, Connect if you Must; 2) Register for Smart911; 3) Know Your Location. Their public education materials are for people of all ages and reaches out to all the communities in the county. They teach the importance of calling 9-1-1 and what callers can expect when talking to a dispatcher.
Cherokee County E-911 focuses on sharing the same information. They are the primary agency for all communications in Cherokee County located in Canton, Georgia, and dispatch several public-safety agencies in the county.
“We spend the entire year joining with other agencies in the county to educate the public on what a dispatcher and call-taker do at our agency,” said Lauren Stallings, the Public Education Team Lead. “We discuss the questions and series of protocols that our agency adheres to when answering calls.”
Stallings has served at Cherokee County E-911 for five years as a Communications Officer. She leads a team of 25 other communication officers who volunteer on the Public Education Team, on top of their regular duties and responsibilities of answering calls and managing radio traffic for police, fire and EMS agencies in the county. In 2019, their team made contact with over 5,800 citizens in the county at various community events to talk about 9-1-1 services.
Unfortunately, this year has been very different with the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. Both Stallings and Jordan planned on participating in many different community events this Spring, but those events have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely as their communities comply with Executive Stay-At-Home Orders and practice social distancing.
“COVID-19 has restricted the outreach abilities for my division,” said Jordan. “We’ve had to get creative to still get our messages out to our intended recipients.”
Stallings said her team has not specifically focused on April as 9-1-1 Education Month in the past. “However, with the current state of the world, we are now having to focus on engaging our social media followers.”
This April, both Jordan and Stallings had to think of innovative ways to create content on social media that educates citizens about the 9-1-1 Emergency System and other emergency services in their counties. Their clever genius is paying dividends.
On April 24th, Cherokee County E-911 published their first Adventures in Dispatch with Friends & Readers, a video series they will post to their agency’s Facebook page on Fridays. The videos will highlight a new book or discussion about 9-1-1 and Emergency Dispatch. In their first published video, the agency’s Training Coordinator, Josh Shute, reads a children’s book titled To The Rescue! by Mercer Mayer. The video already has a number of likes/comments/shares from followers. According to Stallings, future videos will also spotlight members of the Public Education Team introducing them to the communities they serve.
Charleston County Consolidated 9-1-1 has also started introducing their staff to their community. They have created a special photo album on their Facebook page called #911FriendsFriday. Every Friday, they feature one of their telecommunicators in a picture with a short bio and share some personal information, like hobbies and favorite foods. This campaign humanizes the telecommunicators, who are so often only heard and never seen, in ways that are relatable to everyone.
The COVID-19 pandemic is making 9-1-1 centers rely on social media, but Stallings and Jordan both agree that nothing beats the personal interaction they would normally have with community members at public events.
“I enjoy going to festivals and block parties,” said Jordan. “These events host a wide variety of different demographics and I love interacting with people in our community and teaching them things they never knew… things that could save their life!”
The Public Education Team at Cherokee County E-911 very much misses visiting children at local elementary schools to do educational presentations. They use Red E. Fox and Cell Phone Sally materials and videos to teach kids about the proper use of 9-1-1.
“Our team loves seeing the excitement on children’s faces when they walk out of class with a better understanding of what will happen if they ever have to call 9-1-1,” Stallings added.
The Covid-19 pandemic has definitely had an impact on traditional methods 9-1-1 communication centers used in the past to do outreach and engagement, but the public education programs at Charleston County Consolidated 9-1-1 and Cherokee County E-911 continue to thrive, despite the unique safety restrictions. These agencies have started to rely on social media and other virtual platforms to share personal safety tips, emergency preparedness information, and to highlight the extraordinary work of their staff. The visionary leadership of Jordan and Stallings have helped each of these agencies adapt to unprecedented challenges and embrace new ways to celebrate April as 9-1-1 Education Month.