Within the last 10 years the number of payphones and landlines has dropped sharply, most homes now relying on personal cellphones as their only phone. The majority of people filling in the same number for home and cell phone numbers on any form requiring it. A smartphone has thousands of useful functions and the supply of apps is endless, but can your child use it to dial 911 for an ambulance, the police, or the fire department? If you were unconscious, unable to get to your phone, or some other emergency, could your child unlock it and dial correctly for first responders? On most phones the keypad is not readily available and many people have passcodes to unlock the phone only to be lost in a sea of icons if you know the code.
Thankfully, there are a few apps that help parents teach their children how to dial 911 from a smartphone. These apps simulate what a child would see on the screen and the various menus they may have to navigate. In no particular order, here are a few that are free or cheap to download, you can start teaching a small child when and how to dial 911 in just a few moments.
Teach911 (Free) - 2 modes: Assistance and Advanced.
- Assistance mode highlights the correct sequence of buttons to click from the home page, the phone app, and all the way to dialing and hitting call. A few unsuccessful clicks will then re-show the highlight arrow to pinpoint the correct button again.
- Advanced mode has no highlighting and requires your child to get to the phone app, the keypad tab, and then dial 911 and hit call all by themselves. Use this mode as a final challenge to make sure your child understands what to do.
DialSafe Pro (Free) - Teach your child proper phone usage and safety with an app that lets them actually practice it! DialSafe is designed to teach these critical skills in a kid friendly manner through the use of animated lessons, skill building games, practice sessions, and even a realistic phone simulator. DialSafe helps provide a comprehensive learning experience in a safe environment where the child can both explore and learn.
Easy 911 ($2.99) - With this dual purpose app, teach young children how to call 911 in case of an emergency as well as immediate access to an emergency contact.
- Practice calling 911 with a simulated call to a sample operator
- Easy one-button access to a live 911 operator In a real emergency
- Speed-dial option to automatically dial as soon as the app is launched from the home screen
Remember, it's not enough for them to know when to call and how to call, they must also know their address. In some areas emergency dispatch centers have the ability to “ping” your smartphone in an attempt to get an approximate location. In rural settings this can be helpful, but in metropolitan and even suburban areas this may only lower your possible location to a dozen or more possible addresses. When minutes can made a difference in an emergency it is important that police, fire, or EMS workers are able to find you quickly. Practice with your children, helping them to understand the importance of remaining calm and providing the dispatcher with your home address as well as relating what emergency is taking place.
For more resources visit 911 for Kids – 911 for Kids is the official emergency caller training program created by US 911 communication center officials, emergency medical, fire, and law enforcement professionals.
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Alex is a volunteer firefighter in Evansville, Indiana and a full-time firefighter in Providence, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter @FireSafetyAZ