Your kids probably aren’t being taught to call emergency services

Ask your kids do they know how to call emergency services on a phone they find laying around. Ask them to describe how they would do it. Chances are pretty good they’ve received no training on how this is accomplished and it’s more difficult that you might think.

Yeah, they can install Roblox on a piece of toast with a custom Linux kernel, but chances are they have never had to make a phone call, let alone on someone else’s device, in an emergency.

TL;DR – educate your kids and yourself to the issues you might encounter attempting to dial emergency services from someone else’s phone. There are a lot of potential issues.

E-615 is not emergency services, just emergency party services.
The wrong emergency services was called

Oh hey, maybe your kids have been taught by a formal education program that a school has adopted and you can forward me the literature. I want our schools in Nashville, TN (USA,) to start training younger kids on how to successfully call for help. I don’t care who gets the credit. The life they save in the future might be mine.

I’m working on a write-up now as nobody I’ve talked to in MNPD or MNPS has training. Input appreciated. Well, nice input. Seriously.

Pick up the phone and call 9-1-1?

Back in 2018/2019 right before the pandemic I was working with a neighborhood association and also involved with the neighborhood’s community resource and outreach officers (police,) so chances were if there was an event that came up that involved the police we’d be there. Horses man, the kids wanted to see horses and robots. I was also running for council at that point so kept running into police. (side note, my kids are opening up the Council session tonight for completely unrelated Girl Scout reasons.)

I talked with the CRO and asked at the time what the new “call 911” literature was and it involved teaching kids how to activate an emergency call on an iPhone which at the time, I believe, was pressing a button five times. There was no mention of Android in what they had and something was planned to be done, but there was no clear documentation.

There’s nothing today through our police department according to our CRO. I checked with my kid’s school and the principal thought there was, but checking around nope. There were some device safety things being taught, but no instructions on how to call emergency services on random devices one might encounter in the wild. Not even a desk phone.

What are your kids going to do if they see an adult fall down and they can grab their phone?

This is the question: your kid is for some reason alone or the only person near an adult that has fallen down and is unconscious. That adult’s phone is clutched in their hands. What do they do?

grayscale photo of people standing near the wrecked vintage car
What if you’re in a wreck… in the 1920s

Really, think about this one. Here’s a list of what problems I’ve come up with so far that I’m trying to work my kids through. Also keep in mind I’m not attempting to bash anyone here, and I am far less familiar with iPhones than Androids. Especially as I have no emergency services calls on an iPhone.

On my Android/Samsung you grab that phone, press power (probably on the right side of most phones, usually bottom of the buttons if it’s on the right, top if it’s on the left, top of the phone some of them, pretty sure I’ve seen it on the left on one,) slide up the phone icon on the left, or slide it out depending, and press emergency call.

On an iPhone if it’s got a screen lock you can attempt to unlock and press emergency call. You can also press and hold the power button and one of the side buttons until an emergency thing pops up according to the internets. There’s a whole SOS mode.

On some you can simply touch the phone and press “emergency” as well. My friend’s iPhone is tap and tap and you’re at emergency.

On an iPhone without a lock set up, it’s different. Guess what the iPhone I’ve got doesn’t have set up? So power, swipe up, hope the phone icon is in the right place?

If you’re not at a lock screen on either of those devices, you need to either get to a screen with the phone on it, tap that, or hit power to hopefully trigger the lock screen.

If you get into a phone app, if the person’s phone was last in Recents or Contacts (on Android) your kids will need to figure out how to get out of contacts and get to Keypad to dial 911. Maybe press power to lock and press again to get to the lock screen?

Pressing power too fast or too quickly might get you into photo taking mode, at least on Samsungs and many Androids I’ve run across.

And all of this can be slightly different if there is no lock screen defined. Both phones.

You can be prevented from getting to the lock screens in some circumstances because the owner of the phone did something like set the phone to not lock when it’s near their smart watch. Maybe your kid needs to check a wrist for an emergency call option?

Your kids might not know they’re in a dialer at all if someone has skinned their phone. Might look like a video game controller.

So they’re down and they have a really awesome watch? Does your kid know they can trigger emergency services from a watch? Did you know? Not even going to get into that level.

OK Google call emergency services? Hey Siri call 911? don’t know.

There a phone in an office? Do they call 9911? Do they understand “outside line”?

Just need a wiring kit to get this phone to work.
Just, you know, pick up the black thing, press 9, 1, 1, then realize that it’s doing nothing, look down, rewire what’s been pulled out, you should be set

I wrote something evidently in 2018 similar that has some of the training info, but yeah, it’s woefully inadequate.

And then there’s the emergency services call

Your kid has been drilled to not call 911 unless it’s an emergency. I know this because of the training my kids have received, who don’t know how to call 911, that the one thing they know. Don’t call emergency services unless it’s an emergency. Tell them if they think it’s an emergency it freaking is. Nobody will get in trouble over a call when an adult or someone else is down.

Now it’s an emergency, every second counts, and there is a black device that may be an Android, might be an Apple, and your kid needs to figure out a method to unlock it and make a voice phone call with no adult help while, presumably, an adult is laying near dying. No stress huh?

You know what most 9yos have never done these days? Put a phone up to their ear and made a voice phone call. It’s not done. They may have done video calls, they may have done speakerphone. But man, times are different and it’s a rectangular black brick and they’re in crisis mode.

My 7yo got a hold of a see-through wall phone from the 90’s a couple of days ago and all I could think about was 1) she had it upside down, 2) she was able to pick it up and dial 911 with no issue, 3) I think she could figure it out if we practices with a couple of phones, 4) there’s no practice software that covers everything that I can find.

Yeah, if you’re in Nashville check out the house outside the Opry, they’ve got beanie babies and 90’s phones.

Does your child know how to actually tell a person there’s a problem without telling a god damned epic introduction? This might just be my 7yo but I’m trying to drill into her the import of relaying what the problem is and not saying “you know my friend Becky, it’s like her mom… Becky… the one I got my Barbie clothes from… she’s like in a pool of … Becky… do you know her? She looks like Suzie’s mom but without the pool of blood.”

Can you buy your way out of this?

Yeah, there are safety devices and watches and that doesn’t fix this problem. I was actually reminded of this because a company contacted me, and I’ll be looking at their products and their report later (this is them, although I stress I’m not promoting anything at the moment, we just are on the same tangential course). Oh, I’ll be more than happy to sell a few really cool safety watches for kids at some point but not today. For me this isn’t a solution for this issue.

Even if your kid has the awesome GPS safety watch with call capabilities the day they need it they will have managed to forget to charge it and will need to know how to dial emergency services.

At least in Nashville we’ve currently got officers at every school every morning at the moment for visibility. Not a school resource officer situation as I understand it, it’s more along the lines of Metro showing up to make sure while the kids are loading or unloading nothing happens. But they’re there every day. Standing in a parking lot greeting kids who aren’t being trained how to call for them in the event of an emergency.

What’s the quick and easy solution?

Get it taught in schools? Have an officer come in and introduce themselves, get kid volunteers to come up and make supervised scheduled calls to emergency services rather than being told “call 911.”

Unfortunately there’s no good way for a parent to practice with kiddos that involves them going from found phone to actually talking to an operator. A CRO can schedule calls to a call center as I recall, but generally calling 911 is frowned upon for training purposes unless it’s scheduled with operations.

You know what young kids love to do? Break into stuff, compete, and play with phones. Seems like a win here for public safety and kids if they threw a few phones down and let kids come in and be the first to unlock and dial emergency services on each one of them.

But what can I do?

Find your iPhone or Android buddy. Ask them to show your kid how to dial emergency services on their phone. It could save someone’s life, could save your kid’s life, could save your life if you’re in a crash and incapacitated.

Encourage Apple and Android to create a standard that works exactly the same on both devices. Apple’s 5 taps on the power button seems like a good one to me to bring up an emergency services menu and a slider. Maybe there’s better, but it’s there evidently on a third of the phones on the planet and it’s easy to explain to a kid. Tap button 5 times. Slide. Bam.

If you do accidentally call emergency services, stay the eff on the line. In the US they have to call you back if you hang up and if you don’t answer they might have to dispatch police to your area to check and see if you’re ok. Really, just tell them it was an accident and don’t do it again.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

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