Every year, around 240 million people call 911. That’s a lot of calls. But when you’re in the middle of an emergency, it’s difficult to wait.
Let’s take a look at police dispatch, how it works, and what we can do to help them understand what our emergency is.
What Happens After You Call 911?
When you dial 911, your call is sent to the closest dispatch center to give you the fastest response time. When you dial from a landline, that’s easy; it knows your location immediately. But how does that work from a cell phone? Well, the center of your call is determined by which cellular tower is transmitting the signal. Your call is directed to the dispatch center closest to that tower in the form of Automatic Name and Location Information (ANI/ALI).
Once your call is answered, the dispatcher will try to cover some basic questions like: What is your emergency? Where are you? When did this happen? Answering these questions helps them to know how fast they need to get someone to the scene and who should be sent (fire department, ambulance, police, etc.).
If you have a lot of questions to answer, it’s important to remember that this is not delaying help arriving: someone is being alerted of the emergency right away, and the dispatcher is simply trying to get more information to prepare them for what they’ll see. They’re using a powerful law enforcement software to help prepare first responders for your situation.
How are 911 Calls Prioritized?
In 2017, the average wait time for law enforcement was eleven minutes. Those eleven minutes can seem like a lifetime when you’re in the middle of a situation, but response time is based on four key things:
- The priority of your emergency (high, low, or somewhere in the middle)
- The number of other high priority calls coming in simultaneously
- The number of officers on duty
- The number of officers needed per call
Also, if a police officer is on his way to a lower tier situation and receives a call for a top priority, if he is the closest officer to the location, he will divert to the emergency.
What is Considered a Priority among Emergencies?
- Anything in progress or life-threatening is top priority — if they can get there before things get worse, that’s a win for everyone. For example, a home burglary in progress is going to have more priority than one that happened last night.
- A fight with weapons has a higher priority than a verbal dispute.
- A lost child takes precedence over a missing adult.
- A threat to property, especially one in progress, is also high priority.
If your situation requires assistance but isn’t necessarily an emergency (like a minor car accident where no one was hurt), it’s going to be further down the priority list.
Response Times among Major US Cities
It’s interesting to look at the response time of law enforcement between cities. Obviously, there is a lot that goes into why they are so different (traffic, size of police departments, etc.).
Here are ten major US cities and their average response time, ranked best to worst:
- Chicago: 3.46 minutes
- Los Angeles: 5.7 minutes
- Seattle: 7 minutes
- Dallas: 8 minutes
- Miami: 8 minutes
- New York City: 9.1 minutes
- Atlanta: 9.5 minutes
- Houston: 10 minutes
- Detroit: 12 minutes
- Denver: 13 minutes
What Happens When Police Respond to an Active Shooter?
Police departments across the country prepare for active shooters. In 2019, the FBI designated 28 shootings as active shooter incidents, which means they’re happening about every other week.
When you call 911, here’s what you can provide to the dispatcher to help:
- Location of the active shooter
- The number of shooters
- Physical description of the shooters
- What weapons are being used
- Number of potential victims at the site
An active shooter is considered a top priority and authorities will rush to the scene. Here are a few things that will happen when they arrive.
- Officers will usually arrive in teams of four.
- They will arrive wearing what they have — this could be regular patrol uniforms or bulletproof vests, Kevlar helmets, and other equipment.
- They will likely be armed with rifles, shotguns, and/or handguns.
- Officers might use pepper spray or tear gas.
- They will likely shout commands, and might even push people to the ground for their safety.
What Can Be Done to Improve Average Police Response Time?
Every police department is aiming for a better response time. What are they doing to improve? And what can we do to help?
One of the best solutions is video verification. Where video is available, dispatchers can determine what is a false alarm, preventing response to a non-emergency situation. An app to notify police like SaferWatch can connect to video, and law enforcement agencies are utilizing it. With the features available to law enforcement, SaferWatch is helping cut down response times.
Something we can do to help is provide a lot of information when we call 911. Stay calm if you can when talking to the dispatcher, and give a lot of information on the situation. Not only will they know where it lies on the priority list, but also how to prepare the officer who will arrive to assist you.
If you can’t call 911, another great solution is to utilize an app that will notify police of an emergency situation. With SaferWatch, a personal and public safety app, you can give first responders information about the situation as well as receive updates as to what is going on in your area.
You can be confident that your local law enforcement is doing their best to decrease response time. We can help our friends and neighbors when there is an emergency by providing information, staying calm, and staying out of the way when officers arrive.