the IT city, the I.T. Baby


Can your child call 911? Are you absolutely sure about that?

One of the things my oldest came home with a while back was a pamphlet on dialing 911. She knew to dial it for an emergency, fire, someone can’t be woken up, someone too sick to tell her to dial 911. What she didn’t know was how to locate my phone, unlock it, and make an emergency call in all situations.

I’ve been away a bit from the child blogging game – had a little run for Metro Council that I lost (sad trombone,) and really there’s been little to say lately. Kids are alive, seem to be happy, and decently adjusted.

Should be noted: this is about all the situations your child might encounter trying to use a phone to call 911, I know you all know how to get around all of these… your child and someone else’s phone are the issue.

I’ve got one of these new fangled cell smartphone doohickies that have only been out for 12 or so years and you don’t “pick up the handset and dial 911 on the buttons.” The pamphlet I saw also included three ways to do it on an iPhone based on model, which only covers about 46 percent of cell phones out there.

Due to the Council run and a neighborhood association I’m currently involved with, I’ve had a lot of time around police and fire recently and have been asking if there are any real updates that address things like locating the power button and unlocking the phone on multiple models.

What I’ve received is no, there are not, nor are there training sessions where they work with children on various phones. Your area may be different in which case please shoot a lesson plan in this direction.

You might say “but Paul old man, you simply press the Emergency Call option at the lock screen!” To which I would have to reply nope. Many phones you’ll run into the following problems that will negate this:

Smart Lock

If I’m in my car and it’s running, if I’ve got my favorite Bluetooth earbuds in, if the phone thinks it’s still on me, if I’m at my home or work, I don’t have a lock screen that’s going to have an emergency call feature.

On Android there are a few options for this smart unlock. They’re designed to make your life easier and in the case of an emergency and perhaps your child having to use your phone, they could make it harder.

You say “but Paul old chum, how about we just disable those and move on with our life?” Well, that’s great for you and your child, but what happens if they’re at school and have to use a teacher’s phone because there’s a dickless wonder shooting up a kindergarten? What if they’re in a crash in a school bus and need to use the driver’s phone? What if the babysitter collapses?

You can’t just assume your kid can pick up a cell phone and call 911.

Issues to train for

  • Android 50%+ market
  • iPhone
  • Jitterbug
  • Getting out of apps
  • Landline
  • Landline in a school or where you have to dial a number to get out
  • Voice over IP phones that don’t have an address tied to them (Ooma)
  • Locating where you are
  • No phones working
  • Hardware navigation buttons, software navigation buttons, gesture navigation
  • Plugging in a dead cell to make a call to 911
  • Phone icon not where expected or looks different

Keep in mind they’re going to be dealing with this at a very stressful time and probably someone else’s phone so knowing is half the battle.

No, I need help

Let’s say I was watching Netflix and have a heart attack, stoke, drug overdose, get turned into a zombie, my phone flips face down on the ground, triggers a screen off soft lock. Now my child has to open my phone (one of four buttons,) get out of Netflix (swipe up from near the power port,) press the phone icon on the bottom left, and if I had been looking up a contact they’re going to have to press the text that says keypad and then dial from there.

I checked, if I’m in recents or looking up a contact seems to carry over from use to use.

If I’m in a game then you’re going to have to unlock the phone, know to locate the charge port on my phone, swipe up from that area (gesture home button,) find the dialer from there.

We’ve got to navigate multiple ways of dialing in multiple conditions on the same device. On my older Note 8 I’ve got three buttons that won’t help, nothing’s marked. There’s little standardization. I’ve been watching power buttons move around phones for the past 10 years, nobody ever marks them. Top on that phone, left on that one, under the volume keys on that one, not the Bixby button on that one.

Sometimes I can press the power button and see a screen with an emergency call option, sometimes I press it and there’s a phone option (because it’s in smart unlock mode,) and sometime I’m just taken to the last screen I was on.

If it’s on a Samsung, I can potentially unlock with the Bixby button and I’m on a weird screen that’s to the left of my home screen – swiping left is required to return to the normal launcher where there’s a phone option on the bottom.

Um, thanks Bixby, now let’s go to the home screen.

So, it’s freaking important to teach not just the 911 dialing part, but to walk your child through the steps on your phone, on the other team’s phone, and god forbid a landline and Jitterbug as well.

But wait, there’s another problem

If you accidentally dial 911 during your training you could tie up resources and end up getting someone killed. No really, you think this won’t happen but these emergency centers are right on the edge of functioning (when was the last time you heard of a police department having too much funding to know what to do with?)

Your training accidental call to 911 to maybe save a life could result in someone not getting through. Really, I kid you not, don’t just dial 911 and if you accidentally do please stay on the line and let them know it was an accidental call. Oh yeah, in some cases a phone will dial straight through on an emergency call press, some cases it will ask you if you want to place the call. That’s another good one.

I’d urge you to check with your local police department, police community resource officers, fire department, etc to see if they have any updated training on this or would implement a training class that gets beyond the assumption that one can dial a number, or that there’s a landline, or that they don’t have to be particularly phone literate in order to navigate through a cell phone maze in a crisis to figure out how to call 911.

Also maybe ask your phone carriers if they’ve got any kid training available that covers more than just an iPhone and a vanilla Android device.

So what does your kid do when they can’t call 911?

They woke up from a nap, you’ve had a seizure or a tumble that knocked you out, and your phone’s dead. What does your kid do? Can they call using a Google Home or Amazon Alexa device? Do you, or your child know know how to request help from a smart device? Do you have a plan and a neighbor that might be able to help? Can they even get out the door because you live in an old house and the security door is thicc?

Last I checked it was not possible to call 911 on a smart device, but you could use them to call a local number if you had it memorized – I might be able to have my child call the Nashville non-emergency number at 615-862-8600, or grandma, but I couldn’t reach emergency services.

Do you have a security system with an emergency call option? Maybe teach them how to recognize those as well.

But really… plan to work with your child on a phone so they know how to call for help on your phone, and whatever your phone is not. But see if your local PD has any training that’s beyond knowing when to dial 911. Please let me know if you find some good training, if not I’m going to probably write it up.

Should you wish to schedule a time for a test call, evidently there’s a procedure to do that. Maybe talk to your local police department about actually walking through all the steps to make a call with a class with a variety of phones.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.