Last May, a classroom at Sycamore Elementary School in Orange, CA, erupted with cheers from 2nd grade students when “McGruff the Crime Dog” made his entrance into the room. McGruff accompanied dispatchers from the Orange Police Department as they put on an assembly presentation to teach kids about the 9-1-1 Emergency System. Two years ago, Anaheim Police Dispatchers developed a similar program in their city which also reaches out to local elementary schools. Both agencies now partner with fire dispatchers from Metro Cities Fire Authority (Metro Net), which provides fire dispatch services to both cities, for the assembly presentations. And with the 2012-13 school year underway, both agencies already have plans to visit several local elementary schools in their respective cities.
According to the California Public-Safety Communications Office, statistics show there were over 250 million calls made to 9-1-1 throughout the United States in 2011. They also estimate that in some cities nearly 70% of 9-1-1 calls were non-emergencies and an overwhelming majority of those false calls were made by children between the ages of 4-11. The growing popularity of personal cell phones has also created challenging new problems for emergency police communication centers in the last two decades.
In order to reduce these alarming statistics, Orange Police and Anaheim Police have taken a more proactive approach to public education. The challenge was developing a creative way to specifically target that audience of young children. That is where the 9-1-1 For Kids organization came into play. 9-1-1 For Kids is a non-profit organization based in Orange County, CA, which specializes in creating educational materials and programs to teach kids the importance of the proper use of 9-1-1 and emergency preparedness. They work hand-in-hand with police departments, fire departments, and school districts throughout the nation to help develop this type of educational program for public safety officials.
Communications Manager Kurt Wallace manages the dispatch center at the Anaheim Police Department. Wallace said, “The goal of our educational program is to teach young children about 9-1-1 so they know when to call; hopefully this will eliminate false and prank calls in the future that waste valuable time for our dispatchers who need to help other people with real emergencies”. Wallace would know; he manages a center of 35 dispatchers who serve a city of over 400,000 residents. He went on to say, “The program also gives young children a positive interactive experience with police that we hope will shape their attitudes in regards to becoming model citizens in the community and working with police in the future to solve problems”.
Orange Police Dispatchers Anna Laguna, Summer Clark, and Dawn Ramos look to lead many more assembly presentations this school year. They have children watch a short movie called “The Great 9-1-1 Adventure”, which is an educational story about a group of children depicted as puppets, who go on a journey to learn about how 9-1-1 works. The movie is just one of the products created by the 9-1-1 For Kids organization. After the movie, the dispatchers spend time talking to the children about what to do in the event of an emergency.
The Orange and Anaheim Police departments are the only agencies in Orange County now with official public education programs that partner with fire dispatchers to make visits to local elementary schools. Last year, their agencies combined to teach over 3,200 kids about the 9-1-1 Emergency System; this school year, those agencies look to double that number. Please contact 9-1-1 For Kids at (714) 894-5450 or visit their website www.911forkids.com to learn more about how their organization works with public safety agencies and local schools to create these types of successful programs.