Your kids aren’t being taught how to call 911

Maybe they are, but gone are the days of “pick up the phone and call 911.” These days it’s find the downed adult, grab their phone, and then proceed through a series of attempting to unlock and reach “emergency call” while racing the clock.

You don’t just call 911

This is important. There is no universal way to dial emergency services. On some iPhones it’s tap the screen, emergency call. On some it’s attempt to unlock, emergency call. On the one I have access to that doesn’t have a lock screen it’s swipe up, locate the phone, dial 911. My Samsung it’s attempt to unlock, swipe the phone up on the left and then swipe it out and choose emergency call. iPhones even list pressing the power button 5 times as an SOS, whereas that puts a Samsung into camera mode and then turns the screen off.

Fire engine in Sandy Oregon
Part of the "your kids can't just 'call 911'" series because it looks better than a rectangular phone.

There are multiple other ways this is accomplished between phones, and unless your kid’s school has a formal training program where they walk kids through identifying a black metal and glass rectangle and unlocking it, chances are they’re only going to be familiar with your phone.

I checked with our school (Nashville, TN, MNPS,) and while they do have some safety programs, there is no formal training for kids calling emergency services / 911, no cross platform talk.

If you’ve got a formal training program or handout, feel free to post it here / pass it on as I’m attempting to get this taught in schools. The life your kid saves by hacking into someone’s phone to call 911 might be mine.

There are some scenarios you should consider

Teach your kids… some scenarios to walk them through just so you understand this is more than figuring it out

  • What do you do if the found phone is unlocked already
  • What if the phone icon has been moved
  • What if it’s that other brand’s smartphone
  • What if there is no unlock screen
  • How do you get out if it’s in Facebook or a game
  • Can you use voice assistant to call emergency services
  • SOS mode
  • What if it’s a traditional corded phone
  • What if you’re in an office and have to dial 9 to get out
  • What if there’s no phone but an Apple Watch or similar
  • What if they’re just in a bad situation at a sketchy adult’s house and have access to the internet but not a phone – do they know how to contact emergency services if they’ve just got a browser? This is a good one to throw into the mix.
  • Do they know what a payphone is on the off chance there’s one?
  • Do they know an old deactivated phone can still call 911?

There’s a whole host of issues that a panicked child after a car crash, or upon finding a downed adult, is going to be expected to go through and these days “dial 911” is just not something you can tell them with a straight face.

So please, teach your kids. Grab your Android or iPhone friend and borrow their phone. Request that schools adopt a presentation and hands-on demonstration at least to let children find, unlock, and deal with real scenarios.

And if while teaching your kids you accidentally do call 911 / emergency services – stay on the line and when the operator answers tell them you were teaching your child to dial and accidentally went one step too far. you will not be in trouble. If you hang up the phone, the emergency services operator is required to call you back. If you do not answer they might dispatch police because with E911 they know where you are within about 15 meters. Massive waste of time if you hang up. Nobody will be mad.

I’m going to mention here that I will be covering some smart watches for kids in the next month or so that can call emergency services. I mention this because these are not the answer. They’re an answer, but not the answer. The instant your kid is in trouble I guarantee you’ll find out that little electronics freak forgot to charge the thing and it’s dead, or left it at home, etc. Teach your kids how to operate a phone. You’re going to run into those again and again and again.

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.