This week, VITEMA will begin a month-long “9-1-1 for Kids” campaign to help young students understand when and how to use the universal emergency number and the role operators play in providing efficient emergency response.
Throughout April, VITEMA’s Emergency Communications Centers (ECC) staff will visit classrooms to teach elementary school-age children the basics of using 9-1-1 and about first responders who may arrive at the scene to help. Last year, the “9-1-1 for Kids” program reached more than 200 students between St. Croix and St. Thomas. Students participated in an interactive 45-minute session that featured; an introduction to first responders, games that help students distinguish an emergency from a non-emergency, and a question and answer period.
“The 9-1-1 for Kids” is a national campaign designed to reduce the growing number of non-emergency calls made by young children. Many 9-1-1 centers across the US face the issue of prank-calling or non-emergency calls and the Virgin Islands is no exception,” said Elton Lewis, VITEMA Director. “Through this program, we teach children how to identify real emergencies, about what information should be provided to the operator, and about who will arrive to help them. An added benefit, we hope, is that they understand that non-emergency calls may take critical time away from managing real and even life-threatening emergencies.”
While the campaign targets children, it’s important for the entire community to understand 9-1-1’s vital role, Lewis said.
“Our 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Centers are the only lifelines between the public and first responders when there is an emergency,” Lewis said. “Operators are trained to determine the nature of the emergency, to dispatch Fire, Police, EMS and Rescue to assist the caller and, in life-threatening emergencies, to stay on the call until help arrives.”
According to Lewis, the most important information any one can give a 9-1-1 operator is the location of the emergency. “Even if the call is lost, first responders know where to go. If you don’t know the address, then look for landmarks or other familiar markers,” he said.
In 2009, following a major overhaul of the 9-1-1 system, VITEMA activated new 9-1-1 centers furnished with modernized equipment and staffed with operators trained to meet national standards. Together, the centers field an average of 30,000 calls for assistance per month.
In addition to National 9-1-1 Education Month, from April 13 – 19 emergency operators will celebrate “National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.” Telecommunicators Week honors the thousands of men and women who respond to emergency calls, dispatch emergency professionals and equipment, and render life-saving assistance to the citizens.
VITEMA is also celebrating Telecommunicators Week with various events including an Open House and social activities for operators.
“Emergency operators often go unrecognized for the critical role they play in responding to emergencies,” Lewis said. “I want publicly commend and thank them for the tireless work they do in connecting the public to first responders during times of crisis.”
Groups including the United States Congress and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), a leading public safety association, have also recognized April as National 9-1-1 Education Month, and are encouraging, the 9-1-1 community, and the wireless industry to engage in 9-1-1 awareness and education activities this month.